Former East Baton Rouge Parish Attorney Mary Roper filed a defamation lawsuit against Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe and the city-parish Friday that accuses Loupe of publicly linking her to alleged criminal activity that was cited as a reason for her firing.
The lawsuit, filed in 19th Judicial District Court, seeks recovery of damages based on statements by Loupe that Roper says were untrue and harmed her reputation. Roper has multiple ongoing lawsuits against the city-parish and Metro Council members who fired her in September.
Loupe declined to comment Friday on claims made in the lawsuit. He said attorney Murphy Foster III will represent him, as Foster has defended the Metro Council and city-parish in most of Roper’s suits. Roper’s attorney, Dale Baringer, of the Baton Rouge Baringer Law Firm, said he would not comment further on the case.
The lawsuit walks through Roper’s bumpy history working as parish attorney and claims Loupe wanted Roper fired from the start, soon after his election to the council.
During their first conversation in 2008, the suit says, Loupe told Roper he wanted to reopen the parish attorney selection process because a friend of his wanted the job.
“From that day forward, Loupe set out to diminish Roper’s reputation in any way possible to force her from her position,” the lawsuit reads.
Months later, Loupe told Roper that the Metro Council was going to remove her as parish attorney because of dysfunction in the office, the lawsuit says. Roper remained in her job, though Loupe began requesting information about how the Parish Attorney’s Office operated and auditing the office.
The lawsuit also accuses Loupe of leaking stories to The Advocate about Roper in fall 2009. One was a story about the legality of a parish attorney also keeping an outside criminal defense practice, and Roper had a second job working for the Louisiana Appellate Project at the time.
Roper was convinced that it was acceptable for her to work for both the city-parish and Louisiana Appellate Project, but Loupe disagreed.
The tension between them continued to build in 2014 when Roper helped to gain intellectual property protection for a city-parish computer program. Roper swapped information with her husband — a city-parish computer expert — about the software.
Loupe tried to link Roper to a former city-parish employee who was accused of trying to sell the software program as his own, according to the lawsuit. However, District Attorney Hillar Moore III said at the time that Roper was not being investigated for a possible connection to the former employee.
In April 2014, Loupe told Roper she was being investigated and asked her to take paid administrative leave. But tempers appeared to calm as Loupe apologized to Roper for his past behavior and said he had become a different person, according to the lawsuit.
“I want you to know that I recognize I put you through hell because I audited the whole office,” Loupe said, according to the lawsuit.
The quotes in the lawsuit are in the form of a transcript of conversations with Loupe. Roper has acknowledged in the past that she recorded the conversation without Loupe knowing.
According to the suit, Loupe said, “... You have no reason to trust me or believe me after what I put you through. I understand that, I really do. I just want you to know that I’m truly sorry what I did to you last time.”
Loupe also said during the conversation that he was not investigating her and that he had tried to dissuade others from investigating her as well, according to the lawsuit. He assured her that he would not act based on hearsay, the suit says.
But their conflicts reached a boiling point in September, when Loupe led the charge to fire Roper in an impassioned 15-minute speech. He accused Roper of not properly managing the office, along with other conflicts, before voting to remove her and asking his fellow council members to do the same.
Loupe slammed Roper for her role in the software issue and owned up to performing his own probe into what she did.
“I did my own investigation as I told Mary (Roper) I would do,” he said, according to the lawsuit. “... If she needed her husband’s expertise there was a means to do that. There was a way to do that. She didn’t do that and she would not have been caught had another employee tried to sell us our own software.”
The lawsuit says Loupe defamed Roper in his public comments during the hearing to fire her.
“Loupe publicly accused Roper of criminal collusion ... in spite of the fact that he had no evidence to suggest there was any truth to his allegations and the allegations were, in fact, utterly false,” the lawsuit reads.
The Metro Council voted 8-3 to remove Roper during the dramatic public hearing.
“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,” the lawsuit says.
Roper, who worked for city-parish government for 21 years, lost half of what she would have otherwise received in retirement had she continued working for 25 years, according to the lawsuit.
The suit also claims Roper has suffered severe mental anguish and emotional distress “as a direct result of Loupe’s false statements.”