Ethics Board pays suspended marshal a visit in court Thursday

Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope offers up a peace sign as he arrives for a pre-trial hearing at the Lafayette Parish Courthouse in 2018. Photo courtesy The Acadiana Advocate

The Louisiana Board of Ethics has been trying to serve Brian Pope with formal notification of charges against him for about eight months now. On Thursday, the agency tracked him down in open court, apparently surprising the embattled city marshal who was appearing for a pre-trial hearing on 17 felony counts related to the ethics charges.

In January 2019, the Ethics Board filed charges against the suspended marshal, alleging he broke state law from 2015 to 2018 by pocketing $420,000 in Lafayette City Court fees and garnishment commissions, all of which should have gone to support the operations of the city marshal’s office itself.

Ethics Administrator Kathleen Allen says two efforts to notify Pope by certified mail were unsuccessful, so Louisiana State Police attempted to serve him on June 23. “That green card came back [without] proof that he had received it. There was no signature,” Allen tells me. “They were unable to find the party to serve [him].”

Allen says State Police attempted service at a Norcross Drive address. Pope has used a Norcross Drive address in four of his nine bookings at LPCC since April 2016, the most recent in March and June of this year.

“We can only do so much as far as trying our avenues of service,” Allen says. “And if those fail, then of course we went the extra step and had someone go over there when he was in open court and serve him.”

The Ethics Board has had no contact with Pope since filing charges in early 2019, according to Allen’s records, so there is no information on whether he has an attorney. At that time, the board requested that the Ethics Adjudicatory Board — which is comprised of administrative law judges — conduct a hearing on the charges, but the case did not progress because of the inability to formally serve Pope. In addition to being served with the charges Thursday, Pope was notified of a Sept. 4 status conference in his ethics case.

Pope’s inflated salary, approximately $220,000 a year, was first discovered in a 2017 deposition on his finances conducted after he defaulted on a $21,000 promissory note in a public records case involving The Independent newspaper.

Pope was suspended after being convicted in October of malfeasance in office and perjury, charges that stemmed from the public records case. He was sentenced in June and has been serving home confinement since June 28 with an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew (except for working hours), including wearing an ankle monitor, while he appeals; the judge acquitted him on the perjury conviction, and the DA is appealing that acquittal.

Pope was in state district court Thursday for a pre-trial hearing in the state’s new felony case against him. He is charged with 17 counts of malfeasance for supplementing his LCG-set salary of $81,400 with some of the same fees noted in the Ethics Board’s case. But while the board’s action would seek to recover all of the additional $420,000 Pope collected since taking office in 2015, along with penalties of up to half that amount, District Attorney Keith Stutes’ office decided to only charge Pope for the fees and commissions he continued to deposit into his personal account after receiving an attorney general opinion in January 2018 that the practice was illegal.

Thursday’s hearing did not take place, a court observer tells The Current, as legal wrangling continued over which judge will hear this 17-count indictment — and yet another malfeasance case in which prosecutors claim Pope sought reimbursement from LCG for travel expenses incurred by the office but instead deposited the reimbursements into his personal account.

Assistant District Attorney Alan Haney did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the status of the current criminal cases.