Roper, Metro Council members face off in court in public records fight _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by HEATHER McCLELLAND -- Former East Baton Rouge Parish Attorney Mary Roper.

Former East Baton Rouge Parish Attorney Mary Roper went to court Thursday for a public records dispute in which she faced off against several of the Metro Council members who fired her months ago.

Roper’s suit is specific to public records requests she filed asking for email and text message correspondence going back to 2008 among many council members, with specific search terms, including her name.

Murphy Foster, the attorney for the council members, argued in front of Judge Timothy Kelley that he has turned over many of the records on a computer disc. He said he’s made attempts to provide Roper with more records but said she wouldn’t look at them.

Roper’s attorney, Wade Shows, and Foster argued back and forth about the records in daylong trial proceedings that were continued until Dec. 18. More witnesses are scheduled to be called at that time.

Councilman Buddy Amoroso testified Thursday that he provided at least 1,000 of his own emails to comply with Roper’s records request, while Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle said she expected council administrators to pull and turn over her emails from her government account.

Roper testified that she has not received any of those documents.

Foster said he provided Roper with a computer disc containing many of the records she requested, but Roper said it was not labeled as a response to her public records request. Given that Roper also had a legal discovery request being fulfilled at the time, she said she believed the disc might have contained the discovery documents.

Foster countered that it wasn’t his responsibility to label records he turns over and said Roper’s public records request and discovery request were similar.

Foster built a large portion of his case on what he said was an offer to Roper in early November to supplement the disc with many more documents, including Amoroso’s emails. But, he said, Roper never responded.

“We have offered to provide those,” Foster said. “Instead, we’re here.”

Roper said by that point, she had been given the runaround too many times.

“I was done,” she said.

Even though the lawsuit was specific to Roper’s public records requests in August, Murphy made the case that Roper’s numerous public records requests have been difficult to deal with and burdensome for the city.

But Shows argued that the other requests are irrelevant to Roper never receiving the records she requested in August.

Shows included five workers from the Sheriff’s Office in his witness lineup. He said he wanted Judge Kelley to know how difficult it was to round up the council members.

Two deputies testified about attempts to serve subpoenas to Marcelle.

Deputy Sheriff Craig Landry said he served Marcelle with a subpoena on Wednesday when they were in an elevator together. He said she flung the paper to the ground and insisted she would not accept it, and he then picked it up and handed it back to her.

Marcelle said she and Landry have known each other for years and that the incident was a joke. She said she never attempted to evade being subpoenaed.

Kelley acknowledged during Thursday’s hearing that Roper is a longtime acquaintance and that their children attend school together. Both Murphy and Shows said they had no problems with Kelley presiding over the public records suit.

Roper also now works with Shows, her predecessor as parish attorney.

Many involved in the trial, including all of the council members being sued — Amoroso, Marcelle, Trae Welch, John Delgado and Chandler Loupe — are under court order not to discuss the trial with one another or with members of the news media.

Kelley also reminded the attorneys that their paths likely will overlap at upcoming holiday parties, but none are allowed to discuss the case with him.

The second half of the trial will occur at 9:30 a.m. Dec. 18, when Welch, Delgado and Loupe are set to testify.