Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope and The Independent are back in court this week, this time over whether or not he was involved in a suit to open up Lafayette Parish Sheriff Mark Garber's divorce records four days before last year's election.
At the center of this week's court action are four motions, including a request to remove redactions made on an invoice from Pope to attorney Charles Middleton. The Independent believes those redactions will show that Pope used funds from the marshal's office to fund a proxy suit by Lafayette resident Troyce Thorla to open records of Garber's 2013 divorce proceedings. Pope supported Garber's opponent in the sheriff's race, Scott Police Chief Chad Leger.
"I feel that the judge very well understands what's going on here," The Independent's attorney Gary McGoffin said.
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Thorla, according to an affidavit he signed at Garber's office, wished to withdraw from the suit. The Independent reported in May that Thorla signed the affidavit, expressing regret that he became involved, and that he was urged by Pope to go forward with it. He also said when he told Pope he could not afford to sue Garber, Pope responded by saying he'd take care of the costs, and scheduled a meeting for him with Middleton to discuss the suit.
Pope's attorneys argued that releasing these unredacted invoices to The Independent would violate attorney-client privilege.
Throughout the almost yearlong legal battle, the city marshal has used marshal's office funds to retain the services of six attorneys: Middleton, Katherine Guilbeau, Kevin Stockstill, Mark Plaisance, Joy Rabalais and Jonathan Jarrett.
The total bill from the litigation — attorney fees, fines and other costs — is about $283,000, all of which has been so far paid with Lafayette Marshal's Office checks. That's about 15 percent of the current $2 million budget for the marshal's office, and 17 percent of the proposed 2016-2017 $1.7 million budget for the marshal's office. The costs will increase as the trial goes on.
Pope invoked his Fifth Amendment rights in response to 34 of 35 questions during the written testimony Monday. Included were questions about whether he would reimburse the office for the litigation costs, whether he was involved with Thorla's lawsuit and whether he had Middleton bill his consultation with Thorla to the marshal's office.
Pope was indicted last week on two counts of perjury and three counts of misuse of public funds to advance a campaign after he withheld public records from The Independent, held a press conference on the clock to accuse Garber of encouraging illegal immigrants to come to the United States and file worker's compensation claims. Following the press conference, the newspaper sought email records they believed would prove Pope conspired with the Leger campaign to defeat Garber.
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The Independent filed a motion Monday to receive the list of people who received the Oct. 6 email announcing the conference sent to them, as well.
Pope, as the sole director of his office's budget, has complete control over how those funds are spent. McGoffin said his client wants Judge Jules Edwards to make Pope solely responsible for all costs incurred from the suit.
"The Independent will not cash checks from the marshal's office," McGoffin said.
In another motion, The Independent is asking for the court to calculate the total cost of $100-a-day court-ordered fines for Pope's failure to produce public records. McGoffin said that adds up to roughly $40,000. The Independent is reportedly asking Edwards to increase Pope's $168,000 bond to $270,000, which Pope personally paid.
"We want to show the public just how egregious his failure is," he said.
Edwards is expected to rule on the motions by Friday.