A district court judge warned the Lafayette city marshal Wednesday that failing to own up to his misconduct could land him in jail on a suspended sentence for contempt of court. If that happens, Marshal Brian Pope could get out just in time to stand trial for seven felonies in a separate but related case.
Judge Jules Edwards, as he has in previous statements in open court and in his nearly two-year-old contempt judgment, reiterated his view Wednesday that Pope, an elected official, has acted like someone who considers himself above the law
“You have been proved to have done wrong in this case,” Edwards said in an unusual hearing Wednesday in which the plaintiff in a civil suit against Pope sought to have his probation revoked.
Edwards sentenced Pope in March 2016 to nearly five years of unsupervised probation, in addition to community service and 30 days of jail time, after finding him guilty of contempt of court for failing to comply with court orders to produce emails sought by The Independent, the plaintiffs in the case.
Revocation could land Pope in jail for 23 days, which is the portion of his jail sentence that Edwards suspended. Pope served one week of the 30-day sentence under home monitoring.
Edwards on Wednesday ultimately referred the revocation to District Attorney Keith Stutes, who — if he pursues it — could present evidence from his own criminal prosecution of Pope on felony charges.
Pope is facing seven felonies, including perjury and malfeasance, stemming from a deposition in a lawsuit filed by The Independent lawsuit and allegations that he misused his office for personal and political ends.
Stutes did not respond Wednesday to an interview request.
The criminal trial is scheduled for Feb. 20, and the next date for a hearing on revoking Pope’s probation is Jan. 17, leaving a tight window for the city marshal to serve any jail time for contempt. Edwards would preside over the revocation hearing.
“I am really rooting for you," Edwards said amid a faith-tinged soliloquy on his belief in restorative justice in which he said Pope, like all defendants, is "a child of God."
Edwards said he hoped Pope "will come from the road of destruction to the road of salvation.”
Edwards said he hoped Pope would acknowledge misconduct and convince the judge of his intent to make amends, in the event tjat Stutes seeks to have his probation revoked. That would result in leniency, Edwards said, and denial of wrongdoing would lead to the opposite.
“Marshal Pope, you need to decide whether or not you have done anything wrong,” Edwards said.
The Independent's motion to revoke probation alleges that Pope is again violating public records laws in blocking a Louisiana Attorney General opinion on his practice of paying himself with court fees on top of his regular salary. The motion claims Pope has wrongfully received more than $300,000 since taking office in 2015.
The motion also cites Pope's disregard for Edwards' prescriptions for community service as further grounds for revocation.
When he issued his contempt finding in March 2016, Edwards initially required Pope to conduct public instruction on compliance with the Louisiana Public Records Act. But the judge later ruled Pope could fulfill the requirement with litter abatement, since Pope had failed to submit lesson plans on time.
Litter abatement is available to Lafayette Parish probationers in monthly eight-hour shifts. Pope showed up for his first shift on Dec. 16, and now has about ten months to complete what's left of the 173-hour service portion of his sentence.
Pope can't possibly fulfill his community service requirement on the current litter-abatement schedule, noted attorney Gary McGoffin, who represents The Independent.
Pope’s attorney Edward Hughes argued Wednesday that the district attorney’s office, not a private party litigating a civil matter, is the only one who can argue for revoking probation. The Independent's motion for revocation is “wholly improper,” Hughes said in the hearing.
“There has been no arrest, no indictment, no bill of information and certainly no conviction,” Hughes argued.
While Edwards generally agreed with Hughes, the judge said it was an obvious argument that that could have been made weeks ago. The filing on Dec. 21 in response to The Independent’s month-old motion for revocation “could have been filed by a first-year law student,” Edwards said. He sarcastically questioned whether Pope even bothered to pay his lawyers.
The judge essentially accused Pope’s legal team of intentionally trying to delay proceedings, something he’d also suggested at a Dec/ 18 hearing.
In that hearing, Pope’s then-attorney, Joy Rabalais, asked for a delay so Pope could assemble a new legal team. Rabalais said she had to withdraw because Pope on Nov. 1 had filed a federal lawsuit against Lafayette Consolidated Government, which is one of Rabalais’ clients. Edwards questioned why Pope’s criminal defense team couldn’t take up the revocation proceeding.
The lawsuit resulting in Rabalais’ withdrawal accuses the city-parish government of violating the Stored Communications Act when it recovered Pope’s incriminating emails, in response to The Independent’s public records request. Pope failed to produce those emails in response Edwards’ orders in December 2015, leading to Edwards’ contempt finding.
The emails showed Pope’s improper interference in the 2015 Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office election, and The Independent sued to obtain them when Pope did not respond to public records requests.
McGoffin said after the hearing Wednesday that Pope’s lawsuit is “a real strong sign he has no remorse.” Edwards has not commented on Pope’s lawsuit, but his nearly two-year-old contempt judgment cites Pope’s decision not to engage the city-parish following orders to produce the emails.
“The marshal instead retained the services of an IT professional who was unfamiliar with the system’s architecture, and the (marshal) did not request a forensic analysis of the hard drive on his work station to attempt to recover deleted documents,” Edwards wrote. “The marshal has yet to fully respond to the plaintiff’s public records requests.”
That Pope would risk allowing the district attorney try to have his probation revoked is “mystifying,” Edwards said Wednesday.
"Much of your conduct is mystifying," he added.
Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope will head to court Dec. 27 for a hearing on a motion to revoke his probation. If granted, he could land in jail.