The criminal investigation of possible hacking by fired Parish Attorney Mary Roper temporarily halted her civil lawsuit Thursday against the East Baton Rouge city-parish government.
State Judge Tim Kelley delayed hearing the second day of the case at the urging of attorney Murphy Foster, who is representing the city-parish. The judge had been scheduled to hear several Metro Council members testify about whether they had tried to prevent Roper from receiving emails, text messages and more going back to 2008.
Roper sued the city government and several council members over what she claimed was their refusal to cough up the public records she requested months ago.
But amid the public records lawsuit, allegations were recently raised that somebody at Roper’s home hacked into the Parish Attorney’s Office emails. The alleged hacking occurred both after Roper was placed on administrative leave this fall and after she was fired.
Police searched Roper’s home this weekend under a warrant, which said they confiscated several electronic devices, including personal and desktop computers.
At a hearing at the 19th Judicial District Court, Foster argued that any criminal investigations against Roper should take precedence over the civil lawsuit. Kelley pressed Foster to explain how the allegations were related to the public records requests and how they could affect the case.
Foster said the allegations mean Roper could have reviewed emails between him and the Parish Attorney’s Office. He said he was in frequent contact with the parish attorney because they were corresponding about Roper’s public records requests.
Foster said it would be unfair if Roper had obtained messages that fell under attorney-client privilege.
On the first day of the trials, Roper’s attorney, Wade Shows, argued that the city-parish has been clinging to documents that Roper should be able to obtain. He said the city-parish had turned over a couple thousand pages, but Roper’s request encompassed tens of thousands of documents.
Foster countered that claim Thursday by asking how Roper could know that she didn’t receive all of the available documents if she did not hack his emails with the Parish Attorney’s Office.
“We’re entitled to at least find out whether she did it,” Foster said.
Shows argued that any delay sidetracked from the main issue, which was the unfulfilled public records request.
Kelley said there’s no evidence that Roper committed a crime and that there are only allegations against her at this point. He said both attorneys forced him into a difficult position.
After Shows and Foster each pleaded his case, Kelley pushed back hearing further arguments and testimony for 30 days.
Kelley also warned Foster that putting off the case means the clock continues to tick on how long the city parish has gone without giving Roper her records. If the city-parish and councilmen are found guilty when the judge takes the case back up, the penalties against them will be even more severe.
In light of the threat of harsher consequences, Shows changed his stance.
“I consider it a victory,” Shows said about Kelley granting the delay. “The most important thing was that the judge said, ‘This is serious.’ ”
Foster said he will request that the trials continue in late January when Roper and the city officials return to court, even if no action has been taken regarding the alleged hacking.