Not Exactly What You'd Call Horse Sense
In 2001, House Speaker Charlie DeWitt went to bat for the New Orleans Fair Grounds, sponsoring bills that, had they passed, would have benefited the track. One bill would have nullified a state Supreme Court ruling that the Fair Grounds used an illegal formula to divide video-poker money; two others would have let the track install slot machines. Those actions took place a few months after DeWitt accepted part ownership of one racehorse -- and before he accepted interest in another -- from New Orleans Fair Grounds owners Brian and Vickie Krantz. When the DeWitt-Krantz partnership came to light this year, courtesy Times-Picayune sportswriter Josh Peter, DeWitt said he didn't think taking the 49 percent interest in the horses was screamingly unscrupulous, partly because he didn't end up profiting from it (sort of like saying that accepting a bribe is not wrong if you then lose the cash at craps). The state Ethics Board fined DeWitt for accepting improper gifts, but cleared him of doing legislative favors for business partners.
It Seemed Like a Good Day for Racial Stereotypes
The Opelousas police department observed the anniversary of the Sept. 11 tragedies by staging a simulated terrorist attack in front of the St. Landry Parish Courthouse, starring a "terrorist" wearing traditional Middle Eastern garb.
Hold Your Breath, Dear, We're Entering the Bayou State
Even with Louisiana's traditionally abysmal environmental record, 2003 marked a low point for the state. The year's report is too long to list here, but here are some highlights: PCS Nitrogen Inc. of Geismar had to pay a $1.7 million fine, the largest ever imposed in Louisiana for an environmental crime, for emitting air pollutions for four years without a permit. ... The nonprofit U.S. Public Interest Research Group rated Louisiana second in the nation in industrial emissions of dioxin. The same day that report came out, Louisiana Democratic senators John Breaux and Mary Landrieu voted to relax parts of the Clean Air Act designed to curb pollution emitted by industrial plants. ... In one month, a Baton Rouge chemical plant, Honeywell International Inc. , was responsible for three calamitous accidents that killed one employee and sent dozens of workers and local residents to the hospital. ... The runoff candidates for governor, Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Republican Bobby Jindal, both blew off a campaign forum on the environment and failed to respond to questionnaires from a coalition of environmental organizations. ... The American Lung Association's 2003 "State of the Air" report gave failing grades for air quality to 15 of the 21 most populous parishes in Louisiana -- including the state capitol parish of East Baton Rouge. ... Baton Rouge Mayor Bobby Simpson this year came up with some entertaining excuses as to why that area consistently fails to meet federal clean-air standards. None of his reasons involved the industries in the area that routinely emit toxic chemicals. ... Finally, the federal Environmental Protection Agency's Inspector General released a report saying that the EPA's Region 6 office in Dallas provided insufficient oversight of Louisiana and "could not assure the public that Louisiana was protecting the environment."
On Oct. 27, anti-condom and anti-abortion zealot Bill Graham -- you might remember him from LAST year's Dubious Achievement Awards -- pleaded guilty in Jefferson Parish court to the charge of theft of more than $100. He received a suspended two-year sentence, putting him under the auspices of the Jefferson Parish probation department. In May 2002, Graham appeared at the Jefferson Parish Human Services Authority, posing as "Mr. Allen," the director of a busy high-risk clinic. He drove away with 30,000 Nonoxynol-9 (N-9) condoms from the state's HIV/AIDS Condom Availability Project, which distributes condoms in order to stem the spread of disease. On the way home, Graham says, he stopped his truck and heaved all 30,000 condoms -- 30 boxes worth -- into a dumpster. His actions were for the public good, Graham says, because condom distribution encourages risky behavior and N-9 condoms are "toxic." Argues Graham: "I never said I didn't throw these things away. I do say and continue to say, there was no theft." He pleaded guilty, he says, "to avoid even the chance of going to jail for this -- because it's not worth it." State Department of Health and Hospitals spokesperson Bob Johannessen praises the sentence, saying it "sends a message that even those who believe they're acting on a higher power have to obey the law."
It's rare that a defense attorney has to seek a court order forcing prosecutors not to poke fun at his teenage client's possible execution. But that's what the lawyer for Lawrence Jacobs had to do in January when Jefferson Parish Assistant DAs Cameron Mary and Donnie Rowan showed up at a hearing in Jacobs' capital murder case, sporting neckties depicting the Grim Reaper and a hangman's noose. District Attorney Paul Connick, who ordered the two not to wear the tasteless ties again, said they were Mary and Rowan's idea of a joke -- albeit a really bad one.
From Hero to Zero In One Year
Legislative auditor Dan Kyle, regarded for 13 years as the white knight of fiscal accountability for wayward state agencies, employees and government-funded programs, lost much of his credibility in January by staying on the job as he publicly mulled a run for governor -- generating suspicion that the auditor's investigations were politically motivated. Kyle eventually resigned that post to run for governor, as a Republican who would challenge big-money GOP incumbents. In August, though, lack of funds forced him out of the gubernatorial race and into a run for insurance commissioner -- a seat he ultimately lost to incumbent Democrat Robert Wooley.
Maybe He Was Grading on a Curve?
Asked to grade outgoing Gov. Mike Foster's performance on jobs and economic development, Rhodes Scholar and heir designee Bobby Jindal gave his political mentor "a very solid B or B-plus." It was the highest mark for Foster by more than three dozen candidates informally surveyed by Gambit Weekly, nearly all of whom gave Foster low grades ranging from C to F. Jindal also gave Foster a "B" for the environment, a rating that prompted environmentalists to slap the political wunderkind with the same failing grade they gave the governor.
During city meetings, Mayor Ray Nagin's aides impressed onlookers with their tireless work ethic and commitment to a technologically driven City Hall, as they clacked away on their hand-held BlackBerry devices. What everyone later learned was that the devices were being used as modern-day slam books, in which top city officials gleefully dissed then-Chief Administrative Officer Kimberly Williamson Butler (known as "the bitch" in BlackBerry parlance) in "real time" instant messages. Butler parted company with the administration in bitter terms this spring (she says she was canned; Nagin says he asked for her resignation) and quicker than you could hit "send," transcripts of purported BlackBerry messages between Nagin staffers found their way into the public domain. Butler went on to win election as clerk of Criminal District Court.
Would You Admit To Being Pals With This Guy?
Jefferson Parish Judge Ronald Bodenheimer pleaded guilty to felonies he'd long denied, establishing himself as the center of a house of cards that fell in 2003. Bodenheimer admitted he conspired to plant drugs on a critic of a marina he owns, and tried to rig a child-custody case in restaurateur Al Copeland's favor so he could obtain lucrative seafood contracts. Bodenheimer also said he lowered or split bonds with bail-bond king Louis Marcotte III, maximizing profits in exchange for gifts and services. The disgraced judge awaits sentencing.
Those who tangoed with Bodenheimer also went down: Slidell mechanic Curley Chewning served a six-month halfway-house sentence after fessing up that he planted the drugs for Bodenheimer; Bryan White, Copeland's attorney, admitted he knew about the conspiracy to fix the custody case, and got a year-long jail term; Philip Demma, a former Juvenile Court officer and reserve sheriff's deputy, pleaded guilty to his role in the plot to rig the custody suit, and got two years in the federal pen.
As for the millionaire restaurateur, a federal judge denied Al Copeland's request to halt his ex-wife's lawsuit against him until the feds finish investigating him as part of their corruption probe at the Jefferson Parish Courthouse. Copeland's ex, Luan Hunter, got permission to proceed with her suit and to question Copeland under oath about his knowledge of the plot to fix the custody case. Copeland is expected to invoke the Fifth Amendment during such questioning, as he has done since news of the conspiracy broke. Like Copeland, Louis Marcotte remains under federal investigation but has not been charged with a crime.
2003 was another banner year for judicial offenses. The state Supreme Court booted Orleans Parish Civil District Judge C. Hunter King off the bench after he admitted he forced staffers to work on his 2002 campaign during work hours, then lied about it under oath, twice, to the state Judiciary Commission. Then there was Orleans Parish Juvenile Court Judge Yvonne Hughes, whom the Judiciary Commission suspended for a laundry list of transgressions that included keeping a chaotic courtroom, releasing more than 1,000 arrested adults over two years, holding court by telephone, and hiring a slew of ex-cons as court employees. Not only did the Judiciary Commission recommend the high court give Hughes the heave-ho, but it also suggested she be disbarred, saying her misconduct dated back to her career as a lawyer. Hughes' fate is, as yet, undecided.
Wait Until You See What He's Got for Mardi Gras
State District Judge Timothy C. Ellender of Terrebonne Parish sported a Halloween "inmate" costume that featured dark makeup, an Afro wig, a prison jumpsuit, and shackles. Ellender's costume -- a harmless gag, he said later -- drew the wrath of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which planned to review Ellender's rulings on black defendants.
Look At The Bright Side: The Evidence Room Is Really Spotless
The massive 2001 cleanup and reorganization of the New Orleans Police Department Central Evidence and Property Room certainly spiffed up the place -- at the expense of more than 100 rape and murder cases, which became virtually unsolvable after officers discarded such key pieces of evidence as DNA samples, weapons, doctors' reports and other documents. The purge came to light early in 2003 when it was revealed that key evidence was missing in some open cases. Two police captains, Michael Sauter and Michael Pfeiffer, were suspended for their roles in the cleanup.