Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope, who is facing criminal charges related to the 2015 sheriff's election, is preventing the release of a highly anticipated Louisiana Attorney General's opinion concerning his practice of paying himself with court fees.
Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office is now shelving the opinion altogether, according to a Sept. 21 letter to Pope from Assistant Attorney General Alexander Reinboth.
Reinboth said in the letter that office representatives “spoke to you and/or left messages with your staff” on five occasions between August and September.
The Attorney General’s Office said in a statement that notifying requesters when opinions are complete is a standard courtesy, and that opinions are canceled if the office can’t reach the requester. Requesters can also choose to withdraw opinions. Opinions can be re-requested any time.
It is unclear why the Attorney General's Office withdrew the opinion.
Pope did not return a call Monday afternoon from a reporter.
The letter was released Monday by the Recall Brian Pope group, which obtained the letter via public records request. The group has collected about 21,000 of the 27,500 signatures needed to get the recall on a ballot, said Aimee Boyd, chairwoman of the recall group. The deadline is Dec. 10, she said.
Since 2015 Pope has agreed on multiple occasions to seek the Attorney General's opinion, including in response to his 2015 and 2016 state audit reports. Boyd said the City-Parish Council also asked him to seek the opinion earlier this year during budget hearings.
“To know that all of those people are waiting on it and to not come forward with it, I think that’s pretty suspicious,” Boyd said.
Pope took home more than $120,000 in fees in 2016, according to personal tax returns provided by the recall group. Those fees were collected on top of normal wages of $73,217.30.
Boyd said she expected the attorney general's opinion to mirror a previous one from 2011 finding that state law specifically prohibits city marshals in Shreveport and Lafayette from collecting user fees such as those Pope is taking.
In addition to a recall, Pope is facing seven perjury and malfeasance charges related to the 2015 Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office election. The grand jury charges say Pope used public funds in efforts to hurt the campaign of Mark Garber, who went on to win, and also to pay for his own defense in a contempt hearing in July 2016. The trial is scheduled for Feb. 20.
Two of the malfeasance charges accuse Pope of using public funds to defend himself in a contempt of court hearing last year. A judge sentenced Pope to one week of house arrest in the contempt case, which stemmed from Pope’s refusal to turn over emails to The Independent newspaper.
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