The day after Brian Pope was convicted on four felonies, it remained unclear Thursday which person now holds the position of Lafayette city marshal.
Louisiana Revised Statute 42:1411 provides that a felony conviction of a public official “shall automatically suspend” the official without pay, and that the official “shall be removed from office.”
The suspension is valid during any appeal period, after which the official is entitled to return to office with back pay if the conviction is reversed.
Unstated in the law is who enacts the suspension and removal when the officeholder refuses to step aside.
“If he resists and he defies the law and government, it’s somebody’s responsibility to make sure he vacates his office,” said Ken Levy, an LSU law professor. “He’s a law enforcement officer. One would hope he would just comply with the law here.”
The chief deputy marshal, Phil Conrad, did not return calls on Thursday inquiring about Pope’s status. Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office would not comment.
Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office said Pope’s suspension is automatic upon conviction, but said Lafayette Parish is responsible for making an appointment to fill the position. Edwards would appoint a replacement only if Pope resigns and no one is appointed within 20 days, according to the Governor’s Office.
Mayor-President Joel Robideaux and City-Parish Attorney Paul Escott did not respond to queries Thursday afternoon.
City Court Judge Francie Bouillion told KATC-TV that the court is meeting with attorneys and carefully evaluating its options. She says a decision could come as soon as Friday.
The City Marshal’s Office serves City Court warrants.
Pope’s lead defense attorney, John McLindon, said he hadn’t asked Pope about plans to step down.
“I was told he would be suspended, and that’s about all I know in that area. I’m not concerned with that. I’m concerned with winning the appeal,” McLindon said. The defense is planning to take the case to the state's 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal.
Lafayette Consolidated Government funds the City Marshal’s Office salaries and benefits, but the position of marshal is separately elected.
City-Parish Councilman Bruce Conque asked Robideaux and Escott in an email Thursday morning if the consolidated government needs to continue paying Pope’s salary benefits. Conque said he was waiting on a reply as of Thursday afternoon.
Conque said no one in consolidated government has the power to remove Pope.
“He is an independent elected official,” Conque said. “All we do is pay him.”
A jury convicted Pope on three charges of malfeasance and one charge of perjury. He was acquitted on three other charges. They stem from his conduct in the 2015 election for Lafayette Parish sheriff, a related civil lawsuit for public records and other instances in which he was accused of using his office for personal or political purposes.
Each of the four convictions carries a maximum jail sentence of five years, meaning the 53-year-old Pope technically faces up to 20 years imprisonment. Sentencing, which was not immediately scheduled, will follow a pre-sentence investigation that could take around three months.
Pope also was indicted last month on seven additional felony malfeasance counts related to his personal use of City Court fees. Arraignment in that case is scheduled Oct. 23.