Taking Exception to Exceptions – A Caddo Commission Update
January 15, 2016
For those of you following the Caddo Parish Commission (Commission) scandal involving its illegal benefits and pay, including CPERS retirement fund benefits, you may want to focus in on a very critical matter. Over the years, the Commission has been allowed to stand as a party to dozens of lawsuits, even as a plaintiff. To my knowledge, no judge has even ruled that the Commission could not stand as a party in a lawsuit, until it comes to a lawsuit that strikes the heart of their corruption and illegally obtained public money. That was the precise time a bunch of lawyers being paid by taxpayers decided to try such a bizarre defense. This matter is the truest test to see if Caddo Parish suffers from endemic and absolute corruption or not. I prefer to hope for the best, but even my best hoping is leaving me in total disbelief.
Recently, in the PRO BONO lawsuit filed by Elliott Stonecipher & Whitney Pesnell against the Commission, Judge Ramon Lafitte abandoned precedence and granted a series of exceptions in favor of the Caddo Parish Commissioners. Lafitte, most prominently known as former mayor & taxpayer profiteer Keith Hightower’s city attorney, ruled to excuse the Caddo Commissioners and the Commission as a party in the lawsuit.
Fundamentally, the Caddo Commissioners (as a public body and as individuals) conspired over a number of years to enrich themselves (at the public’s expense) via various forms of payment that are clearly and explicitly illegal according to the Home Rule Charter of Caddo Parish and the Louisiana Constitution. These part-time officials diverted money from the public accounts to their own personal private retirement accounts, yet Lafitte ruled that none of them as individuals, as beneficiaries of dirty money, can be compelled to return the money to the taxpayers.
How could such a ruling, preventing the taxpayers from recovering OUR money, happen in this day and age, while a laymen like myself has the tools to find such obvious legal precedent to the contrary? In spite of Lafitte being a seasoned attorney and judge making a salary of about $150,000 per year from taxpayers, he also has clerks who work for him and are paid to review and present law and facts to him. In spite of this team & their overwhelmingly capable understanding of the law, Lafitte ruled to protect the Commissioners from we the people (although these exceptions are being appealed to a higher court, so in spite of anything they claim, the issue is far from over).
There seem to be only two explanations of real logic: (1) Lafitte is getting bad advice and not paying enough attention, or (2) he is re-imagining the law and common sense in order to protect corrupt officials like the Commissioners named in the lawsuit.
No matter the answer, this is certainly a bad thing for Caddo Parish. By undoing this longstanding precedent, Lafitte has opened the door for every public body in Caddo Parish to have a free pass at any attempt at corruption without fear of accountability.
Imagine this scenario: What if the CPC had decided that they absolutely “need” a 2016 Ferrari for each member to travel in and do their business for the citizens of the Parish? What if Commissioners decided they needed offices for themselves, so they “rented” office space in their homes and the Parish paid the cost? According to Lafitte, no matter what we know to be illegal, the Commission can try it and NEVER WORRY THAT THEY WOULD HAVE TO PAY THE MONEY BACK. The Commissioners would simply be exempted from being part of the lawsuit, and so would the Commission as a whole. When does the corruption end?
Thankfully Lafitte, whether he is corrupt or so disengaged that he missed this, is not the final answer. Even better, a taxpayer with enough conviction to stand up for all of us will not let this be the final say. Higher courts will likely eventually get this right, but it costs tens of thousands of dollars as time goes by… taxpayers paying to defend their own swindlers. God help us all, and God help Caddo Parish. Taxpayers simply cannot afford for those representing us and supposedly protecting us by upholding the law to keep getting this wrong. Corruption cannot pay off here, or what Lafitte is sentencing us to is a slow and painful death as a community where nothing good can thrive.