Third Circuit upholds convictions of Marshal Brian Pope

Pope's attorneys, Brett Grayson, left, and John McLindon, with the embattled city marshal and his wife outside of the Lafayette Parish Courthouse after his October conviction. Neither attorney has signed on to represent Pope in his ongoing criminal cases. Photo by Travis Gauthier

The gist: The Third Circuit Court of Appeal upheld the three felony convictions of Marshal Brian Pope and affirmed District Judge David Smith’s decision to acquit him on one count of perjury. In a ruling issued Wednesday, the appellate court sent the case back to the lower court to clarify sentencing. 

The charges stemmed from a public records dispute that arose during the 2015 sheriff’s election. That year, Pope staged an official marshal’s press conference to attack Mark Garber, then a candidate for Lafayette Parish sheriff. The email records later proved the press conference was scripted by Joe Castille, a shadowy political consultant who ran the campaign of Garber’s opponent, Chad Leger, and is now Mayor-President Josh Guillory’s political consultant.

In October 2018, Pope was found guilty on four felony charges, including one count of perjury and three counts of malfeasance in office. After five hours of deliberation, the jury found him guilty of perjury for lying about authorizing Castille to use his official email address to send out a media advisory via a mass distribution service called Campaigner. The malfeasance convictions are for using public funds to pay his attorney to unseal Mark Garber’s divorce file, for using his office’s funds to pay for an attorney to represent his employees in a DA interview in which they were not targets (the marshal was the target), and for using public funds to pay a lawyer to appeal his criminal contempt of court conviction in a public records lawsuit with The Independent, the civil matter that eventually led to seven felony charges. The jury found him not guilty on three charges.

The Third Circuit agreed with Judge Smith’s finding that Pope misunderstood terminology regarding the use of Campaigner, in essence allowing his own attorneys’ argument that Pope doesn’t understand how email works.

Pope was sentenced to three years in the parish jail for each of three malfeasance convictions with all but one year suspended and is eligible for home confinement. The Third Circuit sent the case back to district court to “specify on which count or counts it imposed the probation, community service, fine, court costs, and restitution; to specify whether these were imposed as part of Defendant’s principal sentence or as conditions of probation; and to specify to whom restitution is to be paid.”

Pope, who was suspended from office upon his conviction, has vowed to run for re-election. Duson Police Chief Kip Judice, whom Pope defeated in a runoff for marshal in 2014, has announced his candidacy, as has Reggie Thomas, who retired from the Lafayette Police Department earlier this year as deputy chief.

Pope still faces state ethics charges and 19 more malfeasance charges unrelated to the email debacle

One of Pope’s attorneys, Brett Grayson, did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on the Third Circuit ruling and whether his client plans to appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Technically, Pope remains the marshal until his appeals are exhausted. If the convictions are upheld, he will be permanently removed from office. And unless he is pardoned, he would be prohibited from running for a public office until five years after the completion of his sentence.

Former federal magistrate judge Mike Hill has been serving as interim marshal.