In an 1822 letter James Madison wrote: “A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” Madison clearly recognized that being able to obtain information about government activities was necessary for democratic self-government to work. Those words penned two hundred years ago, much like most of what was written and said by the founding generation, are just as true today as they were then.
If you have visited any local Sheriff’s Office website recently you may have noticed that booking photographs are no longer available to the public. That was the result of House Bill 729 authored by House Representative Royce Duplessis which became law on June 16, 2022. It was just one of a number of bills aimed at further restricting the public access to records and information concerning government activities.
The continued momentum of public access in Louisiana has been trending towards increasing restrictions to records and access. If there is any chance of restoring our Federated Republic it must start at the local level. Those who are making calls to the (202) area code with the hopes of making a change that will meaningfully impact their situation locally may want to reconsider their approach. Our state legislators are enacting bad law while failing to reign in the power of an out-of-control Executive after three years of tyrannical rule. Our judiciary is more focused on activism and writing law from the bench instead of issuing rulings and opinions based on the evidence. And many of our local government officials seem more focused on higher office that they are willing to cloth themselves in the latest woke fashions to appeal to a broader group of voters while disenfranchising their base.
Taxpayer funded obstructionists decide what is public record
For those of you who have never made a request to access public records we strongly encourage you to do so. We assure you that regardless of the records you receive or the responses you are fed it is the experience which will be most informative.
First off – if you think the law establishes what is a public record you are dead wrong! Often times it is a lawyer who makes the determination. As we have pointed out time and time again even when the law specifically declares a document to be “public record” it is withheld.
Not only does this lawyer funded by your tax dollars determine what records you may see, but they also decide how long it will take for them to produce the records (frequently timing them to be available right after the information is no longer useful). It doesn’t take much stretch of the imagination to conclude that those who successfully obstruct the release of records which bring the official into disrepute are rewarded.
Recently we sent a public records request to Lafayette Parish Sheriff Mark Garber and Lafayette City-Parish Consolidated Government seeking agreements presently in effect with specific agencies of the Federal Government. A single attorney authored the response for both Garber and LCG indicating in both instances: “Please be advised that these documents are exempt from disclosure in accordance with LSA R.S. 44:3. Therefore there are no responsive documents to your request.” Louisiana Revised Statute 44:3 is a law which provides several different public records exemptions for law enforcement agencies. In response we asked: “Would you please identify with further specificity the exemption cited in your denial of this request?” We were advised that “the information is exempt under La. RS 44:3A(3).
This section of the law provides an exemption for the following: “Records containing security procedures, investigative training information or aids, investigative techniques, investigative technical equipment or instructions on the use thereof, criminal intelligence information pertaining to terrorist-related activity, or threat or vulnerability assessments collected or obtained in the prevention of terrorist-related activity, including but not limited to physical security information, proprietary information, operational plans, and the analysis of such information, or internal security information.”
Knowing that the contracts sought likely contained little or no reference to the exemption cited we asked the paid government advocate: “Is your client willing to disclose the effective date of the contracts and the authorizing signatures to each? Can the exempted data be redacted and the remaining information produced?” At this point we received the most peculiar response of all – “The existence of these agreements could reveal the information sought to be protected under LA RS 44:3. The documents will not be produced.” What?
The very fact that these agreements exist could somehow reveal protected information even after we were informed that “these documents” (the admission of the existence of documents) were exempt. If this all sounds familiar it is because it’s the same sort of response from the same lawyer that resulted in a suit, we filed last year. After all, it is a win-win for the law firm when they can create a situation that results in litigation that they will likely be tasked to defend.
Why so secret?
That is what we wondered. Is it any secret that our local officials have voluntarily conscripted local law enforcement officers to do the bidding of the Federal Government? Most of us have been aware of that for years. The public’s response has mostly been the apathy of a defeated people under the heel of tyranny. Most are willing to be openly spied upon by local law enforcement agencies. The placement of license plate readers and cameras outside of local gun shows to collect data on law abiding citizens to share with the Federal Government doesn’t even raise an eyebrow to most of us anymore. Is it any wonder portions of the community don’t support law enforcement efforts as much as they did in the past? It is not that they don’t think peace officers and peace keeping is a vital task. It is not because they don’t back the average peace officer. It is because they don’t trust the administrators and their tangling alliances with federal agencies. We don’t have a national police force for a reason.
In case you are wondering, here are two of the “highly protected” agreements. One entered into with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the other with the United States Marshals Service. Judge for yourself whether any information contained in these documents are exempted under LA RS 44:3. Then maybe demand your local government officials get a refund for the tax dollars they spent trying to hide this document.
Concealment of Public Records is a Crime!
Louisiana law provides for criminal penalties for the “intentional removal, mutilation, destruction, alteration, falsification, or concealment of any record.” While the above scenario may not quite fit the criteria of rising to a criminal act, there certainly have been other incidents which are highly questionable.
Back in November of 2021 we requested from LCG “All contracts for legal services entered into on or after January 1, 2020 with the following firms: Becker and Hebert, LLC; Paul D. Escott, APLC; Gibson Law Partners, LLC; Neuner-Pate; Oats & Marino, APLC and The Logan Law Firm, LLC.” We were told: “LCG has no documents responsive to this request.”
As a follow-up we requested: “Any and all contracts, agreements and/or documents regarding legal services in effect with the following firms: Becker and Hebert, LLC; Paul D. Escott, APLC; Gibson Law Partners, LLC; Neuner-Pate; Oats & Marino, APLC and The Logan Law Firm, LLC.” We were told: “LCG has no documents responsive to this request.”
Attached is the non-existant “contract for legal services” between LCG and Gibson Law Partners, LLC executed in April of 2020.
In closing, recently Mayor-President Josh Guillory issued a statement indicating that he was seeking treatment for substance abuse and other issues. Mayor-President Guillory, his family and all others facing similar challenges are in our thoughts and prayers. In the statement, the Mayor-President indicated that “In an effort to provide transparency, upon my return, I will work to answer questions from the media.” While we feel transparency has been about a clear as the muddy waters surrounding the Cypress Island Spoil Banks, we are glad to hear that the Mayor-President feels there is a need to provide transparency and look forward to having many questions answered upon his return.
If we’re not watching them, who will?
Citizens for a New Louisiana is the only organization in Louisiana dedicated to reforming local government. With the help of numerous volunteers we are making some progress. However, there’s much more work we could be doing. Making a difference will take a little more than reading an article every now and then. Your community doesn’t need another spectator. They need someone willing to step onto the field and become a real part of the solution. Will you join us?Help us to achieve the vision of creating a new, propserous state by becoming a Citizen of a New Louisiana. Become a Citizen