A state judge on Monday tossed former East Baton Rouge Parish Attorney Mary Roper’s defamation lawsuit against Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe, which accused the council member of sullying her name in his quest to have her fired.
In addition to dismissing the case, State District Judge Timothy Kelley also ordered Roper to pay Loupe’s legal expenses. Loupe, who was represented by attorney Murphy Foster, argued he was both entitled to free speech and protected by legislative privilege that allows public officials not to be legally punished for statements made in a legislative forum.
Tensions between a faction of the Metro Council and Roper, a veteran of the Parish Attorney’s Office, bubbled up last spring.
Loupe led the charge to fire Roper in September, when he criticized her management of the office and revisited disagreements between the two over her tenure.
Before she was fired, Roper covertly recorded a conversation between her and Loupe where he apologized for the way he had treated her in the past, according to her lawsuit.
Loupe said he was not investigating her but later told the Metro Council that he did investigate her, according to her lawsuit.
Roper could not be reached for comment Monday.
Her attorney, Dale Baringer, said Roper has not decided whether to appeal.
“What is unfortunate for Ms. Roper is that Mr. Loupe has something that neither she nor any other common citizen like you or I have, and that is an absolute license to lie,” Baringer wrote in an email. “Judge Kelley’s ruling is premised in the fact that legislators have an absolute privilege that protects them from any criminal or civil prosecution whatsoever for anything they say during legislative debate, whether it be before Congress, the state legislatures or the city and parish governing bodies.”
Baringer said an individual’s right to free speech deserves protection, but so does a person’s right to protect themselves from being “dragged through the mud” because of false statements.
Roper’s defamation lawsuit walked through her choppy time as parish attorney starting in 2008 and said Loupe wanted to fire her from the start. The lawsuit accused Loupe of linking Roper to a former city-parish employee who was trying to sell a city-parish computer program as his own.
Loupe audited Roper’s office and asked her to take a paid administrative leave, according to the lawsuit. Then in September, Loupe delivered an impassioned 15-minute speech asking Metro Council members to join him in removing Roper as parish attorney.
The Metro Council voted 8-3 to fire Roper.
“At the September 10, 2014, Metro Council special meeting, as a result of Loupe’s false statements, Roper was removed from her position as Parish Attorney,” her lawsuit reads.
Foster’s motion for dismissal said Roper did not have a case for defamation and that Loupe’s statements could not be used against him.
“The issues in this case arise in the context of Loupe’s right of petition and free speech under the United States and the Louisiana Constitutions and that they are ‘in connection with a public issue,’ ” reads Foster’s special motion to strike.
Roper’s lawsuit against Loupe is one of several she has filed against the city-parish. Another public records lawsuit she filed against multiple Metro Council members and the city-parish is pending.