Councilman Bruce Conque says the appointment of former federal Magistrate C. Michael Hill as interim city marshal by the Lafayette City Court is a temporary replacement pending final action by the Lafayette City-Parish Council.
“Legal counsel has opined that state statutes require the local governing authority make the final decision as to whom will be the interim city marshal,” Conque explains in a statement this morning. “That would be the Lafayette City-Parish Council.”
Lafayette City Court Judge Doug Saloom yesterday told The Current that such a scenario, an interim interim, so to speak, was a likely possibility.
Saloom explained that City Court judges and Lafayette Consolidated Government have been working through the process of appointing an interim marshal based on their reading of state law since Marshal Brian Pope’s conviction on four felony counts Wednesday.
Hill will be sworn in at a brief ceremony at the City Court building on E. Convent Street beginning at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. Louis Perret, Lafayette Parish clerk of court, will administer the oath.
Saloom and fellow City Court Judge Francie Bouillion announced the temporary appointment of Hill late Friday afternoon. Magistrate judges assist district court judges, and assume many of the same responsibilities, generally overseeing first appearances of criminal defendants, setting bail and conducting other administrative duties.
Hill served as a U.S. magistrate judge for the Western District of Louisiana from 2001 until his retirement in 2015. He had also served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Louisiana from 1977-1982. His current practice in Lafayette has primarily been mediation in civil cases.
Elected in 2014 to a six-year term, Pope was automatically suspended without pay when he was convicted this week on four counts of perjury and malfeasance in office. By law, he can be reinstated with back pay if his convictions are overturned on appeal. His criminal defense attorney, John McLindon, told local media he will appeal the convictions, a process that could take up to two years. If there is 18 months or more remaining in his term when the appeals process is exhausted and at least one conviction upheld, the governor will call a special election.
The Lafayette City Marshal’s salary and health benefits are paid for by LCG, though he is independently elected. Conque says all compensation and benefits provided by the city to Pope were suspended upon his conviction Wednesday. “The only benefit he is allowed to continue is his health insurance, but he will have to pay 100 percent of the premium,” Conque notes. It’s unclear whether Pope has already lost his office-issued SUV, handgun and any other property belonging to the marshal's office.
“Other than funding, LCG has no authority as to the management of the Marshal’s office,” Conque adds.
The councilman also says it’s his understanding that routine council procedure on appointments will be followed, meaning applications will be requested and an appointment selection made from that list. “The City Court appointee may be one of the applicants,” he adds.
Hill is expected to be one of those applicants.
Louisiana law is clear that whoever serves as interim cannot seek election to the post if the seat becomes vacant.
According to this 2014 story, Hill is known for his fiery litigation style in private practice and had a no-nonsense approach in his courtroom when serving as magistrate judge.
There’s an interesting twist in the selection of Hill, as noted by The Advocate:
Another of Pope’s defense lawyers, Brett Grayson, previously found himself in Hill’s doghouse during a 2014 federal firearms case, when Hill was a magistrate judge and Grayson was an assistant U.S. attorney.
Hill wrote in a ruling that Grayson’s written invitations to defense witnesses to appear before a grand jury was an “appalling” intimidation tactic.
Questions about the former federal prosecutor's ethics and alleged misconduct had been raised in court before, tactics that drew the attention of national publications.
Accused in the case before Hill of intimidating defense witnesses by calling them before a grand jury without reason, Grayson "retired" from the U.S. attorney's office in July 2014, a month after that Advocate story was published. He was an assistant U.S. attorney for 24 years.
Pope's legal troubles are far from over, as he faces seven additional counts of malfeasance for continuing to collect fees generated by his office even after an attorney general opinion that it is illegal to do so. The opinion was merely an explanation that state law prohibits the marshals in Shreveport in Lafayette from supplementing their incomes with these fees, a law that has been on the books for decades. In taking the fees for himself (despite repeated warnings from his CPA to seek an AG opinion), Pope inflated his $79,000 salary from LCG to more than $220,000 a year, making him the highest paid elected official in the state.
Sources tell The Current any interim marshal will only collect the salary provided for the post by LCG. The fees from City Court and garnishments will now support the operations of the office.
In recent months, after initially hoping to cut $730,000 in funding from the marshal's office, Conque and the council agreed to a compromise arrangement. A one-year cooperative endeavor agreement between LCG and the marshal's office, in which the office will begin paying for operation and maintenance of its vehicles, is up for final adoption at the next council meeting on Oct. 16, Conque says.