A Baton Rouge judge will hear arguments today about whether a powerful elected official can use the might of the state against a single Louisiana taxpayer whose sole offense was to ask for a public record.
Jeff Landry, the attorney general, filed suit against Advocate reporter Andrea Gallo last month, after she requested records related to an embarrassing sexual harassment inquiry against a senior aide. He asked a judge to seal the documents.
Gallo’s offense is that on Dec. 14, she filed a public records request for the complaint against Pat Magee, head of the criminal division in the attorney general’s office.
She was taking advantage of a right that belongs to everyone in Louisiana, enshrined in Article 12, Section 3 of the state constitution.
The attorney general denied Gallo’s request in January, saying the matter was still being probed. But when Gallo called the office and asked for Magee, she found that he was at work. Landry then admitted that the probe had indeed been concluded and Magee had been docked 38 days pay, or about $20,000.
Landry filed suit against Gallo last month and today he is asking 19th Judicial District Judge Tim Kelley to declare that he doesn't have to turn over the initial complaint made against Magee and that Gallo should pay the court costs.
Gallo is represented by Scott Sternberg, who is the attorney for The Advocate and The Times-Picayune. She is asking Kelley to turn over the record, redacting the name of the victim and any others who have a right to privacy in the matter.
She is also asking the judge to review a report by Vicki Crochet, the lawyer Landry hired to investigate Magee and turn over information that is not privileged.
Finally, she is seeking attorney's fees, costs and a penalty of $100 a day — dating back to the original date of the request, Dec. 14 — because the attorney general has acted in an arbitrary and capricious way in denying the records request and taking the extraordinary step of suing.
When Gov. John Bel Edwards fired a key aide over sexual harassment allegations, Landry was quick to jump on his Democratic rival.
So it must have been humbling to find a harassment case festering right under his nose.
A better approach might have been to be candid with the public and admit the problem.
Covering up the scandal and suing a reporter is not the best way to win public confidence.
What is Jeff Landry trying to hide?
Perhaps we’re fixing to find out.