Brian Pope, the first-term Lafayette city marshal who was suspended from office in October after being convicted by a Lafayette Parish jury on four felonies, was sentenced Wednesday to three years in the parish jail for each of three malfeasance convictions with all but one year suspended. It’s unclear whether Pope will serve that one year in Sheriff Mark Garber’s jail or under home confinement.
The gist: Lafayette City Marshal Mike Hill has winnowed down the number of his office’s reserve deputies — which had swelled to about 60 under his predecessor — to but a handful. Hill has called in the commissions of nearly 50 reserves who appear to have been deputized for no other reason than political patronage.
The gist: District Judge David Smith granted suspended City Marshal Brian Pope’s request for a delay in his sentencing until a full transcript of the marshal’s 2018 trial can be obtained. The embattled marshal returns to court Thursday to face 17 more felony charges.
City-Parish Councilman Bruce Conque says the appointment of former federal Magistrate C. Michael Hill as interim city marshal is a temporary replacement pending final action by the Lafayette City-Parish Council.
The characters in the trial are a reminder of just how zany the Pope saga has been over the past three years. Here’s a refresher on some of the role players.
▸ The gist: In other words, Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope is not going back to jail — not yet anyway. And he gets two more years to serve a 2-year-old community service order.
▸ Here’s what happened: District Judge Jules Edwards apologized to Pope in court Wednesday morning. The judge explained that he had mistakenly continued to treat the case — which started out in 2015 as a civil public records lawsuit filed against Pope by The Independent (RIP) — as a civil matter rather than the criminal one it became after Pope defied the judge’s order to turn the records over to the paper. At that time, Edwards held the marshal in criminal contempt of court, an unprecedented finding in a public records case that included more than $100,000 in attorneys fees, court costs and penalties, 30 days in jail (with all but seven suspended) and 173 hours of community service (one for every day Pope withheld the records).
▸ When Pope failed to perform the community service (after repeated second chances), Edwards sent him to jail in February, where he served seven days before appealing the sentence. Earlier this month, the Third Circuit Court of Appeal remanded the case to Edwards to correct the mistake, noting community service can’t be a penalty for criminal contempt of court. So Edwards simply reimposed the original 30-day sentence and suspended it, giving Pope credit for time served. Community service is now a condition of his unsupervised probation — he has to teach 173 hours of public records courses or pick up trash for that many hours — and Pope has another two years to complete it. If he doesn’t, it’s back to the slammer.
▸ Pope’s legal woes are far from over, although he can breathe a sigh of relief for a short spell. The city marshal’s criminal trial on charges of malfeasance in office and perjury, a total of seven counts stemming from the public records dispute, begins Sept. 24.
The gist: Embattled City Marshal Brian Pope argued that emails which led to his indictment on seven felony charges were not public record and should not be admitted as evidence in his trial for those crimes. The district court denied Pope’s motion to suppress the emails. They will be used in his trial.
Some background: The emails in question were obtained by defunct news outlet The Independent in 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.
Pope himself did not give up all the emails requested. The Independent made parallel requests to the marshal’s office and to Lafayette Consolidated Government, which maintains the marshal’s email server. LCG’s cache of emails included records of Castille’s involvement in the press conference, indicating that Pope had illegally deleted or omitted the emails in his own production of records.
Pope’s attorneys argued that LCG unlawfully seized the records.
District Judge Jules Edwards III, who presided over the civil dispute between The Independent and Pope, held Pope in contempt for failing to turn over the records, ruling that the emails were indeed public record. Edwards later threw Pope in jail for violating his probation.
"They’re public records because Judge Edwards says they are," responded prosecutor Alan Haney. “You can’t suppress a public record. He wants you to use the law to hide what he was doing.” Clearly, District Judge David Smith agreed with him.
The trial will likely take place in Lafayette Parish. At least that’s the early indication. Pope’s attorneys sought to move the trial out of the area on the grounds that Pope couldn’t get a fair trial in light of “mountainous” negative press.
Again, ADA Haney: "If they can try [serial killer] Derrick Todd Lee in East Baton Rouge Parish, they can try Brian Pope in Lafayette Parish.”
Haney argued Pope brought the press on himself by virtue of his own misbehavior. Most stories in the mountain of clippings, he said, were factual.