UPDATE, 8:21 p.m.

A jury on Wednesday convicted Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope on four of seven perjury and malfeasance charges related to his use of public resources for political and personal purposes.

The charges stemmed from his campaign efforts for Scott Police Chief Chad Leger in the 2015 election for sheriff, and a related public records lawsuit.

The jury found Pope guilty of malfeasance for paying a lawyer with Marshal's Office funds to try to get Sheriff Mark Garber's divorce records unsealed. Garber was Leger's rival in the election. Pope was also found guilty for using public funds to a hire a defense lawyer for his employees, and to appeal a contempt of court conviction. 

Pope was acquitted on two malfeasance charges, one related to the 2015 election and another to his use of a staffer to help with a fundraising letter. The jury found that Pope's staging of a press conference to criticize Garber's policy views didn't constitute malfeasance.

As to the fundraising letter, defense attorney John McLindon apparently succeeded in portraying it as such a minor infraction that a felony charge was overkill. 

The jury convicted Pope on one count of perjury and acquitted him on another. Pope was found guilty of lying about his authorization of a mass distribution email notifying reporters of the press conference criticizing Garber. He was acquitted lying about services he received from Leger's campaign consultant. 

ORIGINAL POST

Closing arguments in Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope’s criminal trial on Wednesday didn’t center on facts in the case. A District Attorney’s Office prosecutor and defense lawyer instead tried to convince the jury as to how they should view the details.

The District Attorney’s Office accuses Pope of committing malfeasance by using Marshal’s Office employees and other resources in the campaign, and to help his own political standing.

The perjury charges are based on Pope’s sworn testimony in a civil lawsuit brought by The Independent newspaper, which sued to obtain records of Pope’s involvement in the 2015 campaign after Pope refused to respond to the newspaper’s public records request.

In his closing argument, Assistant District Alan Haney repeatedly accused Pope of violating his oath of office, specifically the promise to impartially discharge official duties. Pope’s attorney, John McLindon, argued that prosecutors failed to show that Pope intended to commit malfeasance, an intent McLindon said is a requirement for conviction.

As for the perjury charges, McLindon said Pope’s responses in the deposition had been misinterpreted, and that his apparent waffling on answers resulted from his being bombarded with files he hadn’t seen.

“This is what they call deposition by ambush,” McLindon said.

The records being shown to Pope in the deposition were incriminating emails between him and Leger’s campaign consultant. Those had been deleted from Pope’s computer and excluded from his response to The Independent’s public records request, and the newspaper obtained them through a request to Lafayette Consolidated Government.

The Independent’s attorney questioned Pope in the deposition about his coordination with Leger’s campaign consultant, Joe Castille, on a press conference in which Pope slammed Leger’s opponent, Mark Garber, who later was elected sheriff. The press conference was staged to look like a critique of then-Sheriff Mike Neustrom’s policy of not cooperating with federal immigration authorities on the detention of undocumented immigrants.

Haney showed a clip of the press conference in which Pope warns that Garber would continue Neustrom’s "sanctuary" policy. The prosecutor said this was tantamount to urging people who to vote for.

That would have been fine, Haney told the jury, if it was done on Pope’s own time apart from his public office. But Pope appeared in uniform at a lectern with the Marshal’s Office logo, and with staffers appearing with him. Pope didn’t do anything to counteract Neustrom’s policy after the press conference, Haney said.

“This is about Joe Castille conspiring with Brian Pope to use the Marshal’s Office to slam Mark Garber,” Haney said. “He doesn’t care about immigration.”

McLindon argued that illegal immigration is a valid law enforcement topic that any law enforcement official should care about. He scoffed at the notion that Pope did no other work on the issue, since City Marshal deputies daily struggle to locate and serve warrants on undocumented immigrants. That Neustrom was a lame duck sheriff made Garber a valid target of criticism, McLindon said.

“It would be malfeasance in office not to have a press conference,” McLindon said. “(Pope) was the only one courageous enough to do it, and he got indicted for it.”

As for including staffers in the press conference, McLindon argued they could have been using break time. Prosecutors needed to prove that Pope knew employees had exhausted all available break time, and then instructed them to participate anyway.

Reporters were notified of the press conference through marketing software called campaigner, and the other perjury charge stems from Pope’s contradictory deposition answers concerning his authorization of a mass email from his official address. McLindon argued that the prosecution never proved Pope had authorized the distribution, and that he would have only done so accidentally.

The press conference wasn’t the only way Pope tried to help Leger, according to prosecutors. Pope also had the Marshal’s Office attorney file a court motion to unseal Garber’s divorce records, as evidenced by a legal invoice that Pope paid. McLindon argued that Pope paid the invoice as a routine administrative matter, without knowing about the motion to unseal the divorce records.

Two of the malfeasance charges allege Pope used Marshal’s Office resources to help himself. In one instance, prosecutors said, Pope had hired a defense lawyer to accompany employees to meetings with the District Attorney’s Office as a ploy to find out if he was under criminal investigation.

Prosecutors also accused Pope of enlisting a staffer to help him with a fundraising letter for his campaign. 

“I’m a political figure. I can use my office for my campaign,” Pope said in a deposition clip that Haney played on Wednesday.

McLindon acknowledged the comment does not look good for Pope, but the allegation concerns a single task that a staffer had worked on for only a few minutes. That did not merit a felony malfeasance charge, McLindon argued, drawing a mocking reply from Haney.

“He’s trying to trivialize what his client did,” Haney told the jury.

Whatever the verdict, Pope’s legal troubles are far from over. He was indicted earlier this month in a separate malfeasance case stemming from his personal use of court fees. Arraignment in that case is scheduled Oct. 23.


Follow Ben Myers on Twitter, @blevimyers.