Parish Attorney Mary Roper was fired by the Metro Council on Wednesday, bringing to an end a 21-year career in city-parish government that saw her advance to a position as the city’s top lawyer that she called her “dream job.”
The final meeting to decide Roper’s fate was riddled with accusations, mudslinging and both sides airing dirty laundry — marking the end to what have been four twisting and acrimonious months between the parish attorney and several members of the council.
Ultimately, the council voted 8-3 to remove Roper.
“It’s a sad day for Baton Rouge, it’s a stain on the history of our government that I was removed from this position after serving the parish for 21 years for going above and beyond,” Roper told reporters after the vote.
While the council was represented by Baton Rouge attorney Murphy Foster III, it was Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe who took the lead in laying out the case against Roper in an emotional 15-minute speech detailing their bumpy relationship since 2009 when he first took office.
Loupe said he initially grew concerned about issues in the Parish Attorney’s Office in 2009 after media reports that a backlog of DWI cases were being dismissed because the City Prosecutor’s Office, which was under Roper’s control, had failed to prosecute them.
He continued through the list of allegations against Roper point by point, repeating after each item for dramatic effect: “If you don’t believe that’s a problem … then we respectfully disagree.”
Under Roper’s watch, he said, one of her employees released “all of the police records of a pending homicide investigation to the opposing counsel for a first-degree murder case. That’s a problem.”
The Advocate reported in August that Assistant Parish Attorney Jonathan Holloway, who had previously served as legal adviser to the Baton Rouge Police Department, was reassigned after checking out evidence related to the 1985 stabbing death of Denise Porter. He reviewed the evidence following receipt of a public record request from attorneys for Joel Porter, who has been identified as a suspect in her killing. Porter has adamantly denied having anything to do with his wife’s death.
Lea Anne Batson, acting parish attorney in the wake of Roper’s removal, said Thursday that Holloway was investigated by the police and the Attorney General and was cleared of wrong doing. But she said, “supplemental police reports were inadvertently produced in the Initial Disclosures in the Porter civil suit by another attorney in our office, Tedrick Knightshead.” Batson also said Holloway’s reassignment had nothing to do with him checking out and reviewing evidence in the Porter case.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Loupe accused Roper of not working full time, saying that an investigation into her hours in 2010 using parking garage logs found she typically worked from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Roper dismissed the claims as ridiculous, saying she and the attorneys under her are often required to be out of the office as part of their jobs.
Loupe also took issue with a conversation between the two of them which Roper covertly recorded. In the conversation, Loupe said, he discussed personal issues concerning his family and the health of his son. Loupe’s son, who was 15 at the time, was shot in 2012 and paralyzed below the navel.
“I’m not going to sit up here and be the mayor pro tem and take shots in the paper and not tell you the real reason Mary Roper should be replaced,” he said. “It’s real simple. She’s not doing the job.”
Foster said the recorded conversation, which Roper’s attorney Wade Shows still has in his possession, is an example of an unethical breach of trust between an attorney and her client.
For her part, Roper said she recorded the conversation to protect herself. She said Loupe sought in the conversation to intimidate her by telling her she and her husband were being criminally investigated to determine if they were involved with a city-parish employee who was attempting to sell copyrighted software created by the city as his own.
Roper is not being criminally investigated.
She also accused Loupe of reprimanding her in a previous conversation for not hiring his friend, Greg Rome, a Baton Rouge attorney, for a job. Loupe denied her version of the story. Roper had previously accused Loupe of asking her to step down in 2009 so he could hire Rome as parish attorney.
Roper also revealed that in the recording Loupe apologized for trying to remove her in previous years and admitted his previous attacks on her work ethic were unwarranted.
“Now he sits up here today and says those same things and I don’t even know what to think anymore,” Roper said.
Roper said she’d hoped to work for the city-parish for at least 25 years so she could receive the full benefits of the city-parish pension. Had she made it to 25 years, she could draw 75 percent of her current salary, which is $120,994. Being ousted means she will still be able to draw 38 percent of her salary.
Roper had a couple of vocal supporters on the council who expressed anger that the decision to remove Roper appeared to have been driven by a handful of council members while others were being kept in the dark about the machinations.
The discussion was heated at times and took a particularly ugly turn when Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel shared that she was told Loupe tried to offer the parish attorney’s job to someone who had arranged airfare for his disabled son.
Loupe interrupted her, telling her she could not “accuse him of something improper in a public forum,” and warning her not to talk about his family again.
“I didn’t say anything about you or your child. I will cut your time off if you mention anything personal,” Loupe told Banks-Daniel.
Banks-Daniel said Loupe’s attitude was illustrative of a regular disrespect he exhibits for some members of the council.
“We all have suffered tragedy; this isn’t personal about you or your son,” Banks-Daniel said.
Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle took up for Loupe, calling Banks-Daniel’s comments inappropriate. When Banks-Daniel tried to respond, Marcelle responded, “Don’t address me. If I need to talk to you, I can just pull up your emails where you talk to Jesus.”
Marcelle was referring to an email Banks-Daniel sent the council earlier this week supporting Roper, in which Banks-Daniel said she had been in prayer about the issue. “So far, all I get deep down in my spirit man is this command, ‘Do Mary Roper no harm,’ ” Banks-Daniel wrote.
She also took heat for sending an email to an employee in April in which she said, “People work for me understand submitting to my earthly authority has nothing to do with me, but has everything to do with God honoring everything we do with success.”
Councilwoman Tara Wicker also took issue with Loupe’s allegations against Roper, accusing him and other council members of unfairly making decisions on behalf of the full council without consulting them.
Wicker said she had yet to see documentation backing up his claims and was hearing some of the allegations against Roper for the first time.
“At the end of the day, you are not the boss of me, and I need to be respected,” Wicker said.
Only Banks-Daniel, Wicker and Ronnie Edwards voted against removing Roper. Councilman Joel Boé was absent. Those voting to dismiss Roper were Loupe, Marcelle and council members John Delgado, Scott Wilson, Buddy Amoroso, Donna Collins-Lewis, Trey Welch and Ryan Heck.
Roper’s saga began in April, when the veteran Baton Rouge government attorney was asked to take a leave from her office as an investigation was conducted into a city-parish employee trying to sell copyrighted software as his own.
Her name surfaced because she sent an email to her husband, a software developer, with the source codes to the software in question. Some council members questioned whether Roper was inappropriately sharing proprietary information, but Roper said she was simply asking her husband for assistance on a technical issue while she submitted the software to the U.S. copyright office.
The council in May voted to declare its intentions to remove her and set a hearing for her to contest the charges. At the time, the council was split, with Banks-Daniel, Wicker, Wilson, Collins-Lewis and Boé all voting in support of Roper.
The hearing was first delayed because of disagreements over procedure and then delayed a second time as Roper and city-parish officials negotiated a deal that would have allowed her to quietly resign from her post in the Parish Attorney’s Office and accept a job as the legal adviser to the City-Parish Employee Retirement System — a move that ensured Roper could keep her generous city-parish pension plan and earn a salary of about $95,000.
Roper ultimately rejected the deal for the job at the retirement office. In August, Roper filed a lawsuit against the council saying the process they laid out to remove her violated her right to due process. She asked a judge to step in and outline a process, and declare that the council couldn’t fire her unless she had committed a crime.
Last week, she lost her suit in district court.
In her absence, Lea Anne Batson is acting parish attorney until the Metro Council votes on Roper’s replacement. Loupe said Wednesday that he’s in no rush to appoint a new parish attorney, adding that the office needs time to settle under Batson’s leadership.
Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter, @rebekahallen.
For more coverage of city-parish government, follow City Hall Buzz blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/cityhallbuzz.
Editor’s note: This article was changed on Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014, to include comments from the Parish Attorney’s Office that Assistant Parish Attorney Jonathan Holloway was investigated and cleared of wrongdoing by the police and state Attorney General’s Office in the checking out and review of evidence related to the 1985 stabbing death of Denise Porter.