In a move that intensified the simmering antagonism between the city-parish government’s top lawyer and a faction of the Baton Rouge Metro Council, Parish Attorney Mary Roper recently fired off a public records request to review emails, texts and social media correspondences of five council members.
Roper subsequently rescinded the request, but some council members say the damage has already been done — calling it the latest example of poor judgment from an attorney who is in a very public fight to keep her job.
Roper’s attorney, Wade Shows, said she was making a legitimate request for public documents in an effort to defend herself at an employment hearing on June 18.
The latest volley in Roper’s battle to keep her job came earlier this week, when Roper sent public record requests to council members Chandler Loupe, John Delgado, Trae Welch, Buddy Amoroso and C. Denise Marcelle.
Roper requested emails dating back to 2008 from their council email addresses, in addition to emails sent from their personal and work email addresses.
Emails from the personal email accounts of public officials discussing public matters are subject to release under Louisiana’s Public Records Law.
Roper sent the requests to private employers of two council members and also requested social media correspondences. In addition, she requested text messages and emails from the five council members to Assistant Parish Attorneys Lea Anne Batson and Cyndi Bohrer.
The parish attorney is a Metro Council appointee and provides legal services to the council. But Roper and her department also represent the Mayor’s Office and various city-parish departments on legal issues.
Amoroso said Roper’s request for emails sent by council members was inappropriate and called for her resignation.
“I’m very upset that she, as my attorney, is demanding in a public records request privileged information,” he said. “I don’t think that was a wise thing to do. There’s so much bad blood there now that I can’t see how she can possibly continue. It would be best for her to resign.”
Roper declined comment, referring questions to Shows, who said she has no intention of resigning.
“Any rumor that she is resigning is completely false,” he said. “Mary Roper is getting so much public outcry and support that she is considering running for mayor.”
Delgado said an attorney who files a request to gather information on her own client is creating a conflict by taking an adversarial position against them.
“This is the type of impermissible conflict, under the rules of professionalism, that could require an attorney to withdraw from representation,” Delgado said.
“It’s just another example of bad judgment and conflict of interest that keep arising,” he added, “which is exactly why we are reviewing whether she is well-suited for that position.”
Delgado also said much of what Roper requested, such as social media correspondence, is not public record. He said sending the requests to the employers of some council members was a pointless exercise because they are not public agencies.
Delgado is self-employed. But Loupe and Marcelle work for private law firms that received the public record requests.
Marcelle said she hired an attorney to step in on her behalf, before Roper pulled the request. She said she doesn’t understand why her records were requested — the only female council member on Roper’s list.
“It seems like she has taken the position that I was voting her out since I’m the only councilwoman she asked for the records on,” Marcelle said.
She said she actually was on the fence about whether she would vote to remove Roper at the hearing later this month but that the public records request “certainly did not help” Roper’s case.
Loupe declined comment. Welch did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Shows said Roper requested the information to prepare for a hearing later this month where she will defend herself against accusations from council members seeking to remove her.
“There’s nothing adversarial about it,” he said of Roper’s records request. “To defend yourself you have to find out information they have that they’re going to use against her.”
Shows also pointed out that the council members, via their attorney Jack Whitehead, filed public record requests to Roper’s second job with the Louisiana Appellate Project.
On May 22, Whitehead, who was hired pro bono to present a case to remove Roper at the hearing, sent the Louisiana Appellate Project records requests asking how long Roper has been employed with the group, her pay rate and total compensation since 2010, a list of the cases she had handled and what districts she filed appeals in on behalf of the agency.
Whitehead also asked for the same information about Gwendolyn Brown, who is a supervisor at the Louisiana Appellate Project and an assistant parish attorney in Roper’s office.
Roper ultimately withdrew her public record request for council correspondence because they found that there would be “other avenues to discover that information,” Shows said.
Council members Welch, Delgado and Amoroso sponsored the initial resolution expressing their intentions to fire Roper.
Her job was called into question last month, when it was discovered that she sent an email to her husband with the source codes of an inhouse software program that she was in the process of getting copyrighted.
Another employee subsequently was caught trying to sell the inhouse program as his own, which lead to his resignation and an investigation by law enforcement.
Roper said she did nothing wrong and had sent the codes to her husband only to get technical help. He works for the city-parish Department of Public Works and has background in software programming.
Nevertheless, some council members called the move a breach of her fiduciary duty by disclosing the proprietary information to an outside party.
Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter @rebekahallen.
For more coverage of city-parish government, follow City Hall Buzz blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/cityhallbuzz/