Pope's public emails will be used in his criminal trial - KATC.com | Continuous News Coverage | Acadiana-Lafayette

Pope's public emails will be used in his criminal trial

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Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope's emails will be used as evidence in his criminal trial, a district judge ruled on Thursday.

Pope's attorneys had moved to exclude the emails from the case, arguing that the emails sent to and from the marshal's government email account were subject to an illegal, warrantless search and seizure — the same argument they're making in a federal lawsuit against Lafayette Consolidated Government. They also argued Pope's personal emails sent to and from his government account were wrongfully released to the public.

Fifteenth Judicial District Judge David Smith disagreed, marking the second time a district judge has ruled the marshal's emails are public record.

"I don't think it's suppressible," he said.

Prosecutor: Emails are public record

Alan Haney, the 15th Judicial District prosecutor leading Pope's criminal case, said during the hearing the argument equated to an elected official using the Fourth Amendment "to prevent people from seeing his own emails."

Pope's attorneys also argued that a New Orleans court case set a precedent that personal emails should be excluded from public records production.

"Emails of a purely personal nature, which have no relation to a function of public office, are not public records," attorney John McLindon argued on Pope's behalf, referring to the court's opinion in that case.

Haney and Smith pointed out that the case does not apply to a public official's personal emails on a public account.

Lafayette Consolidated Government produced a trove of Pope's emails to The Independent in 2015 after the marshal refused to honor their request for the documents. LCG operates Pope's lafayettela.gov email address, which he uses in his official capacity. 

Gary McGoffin, The Independent's attorney, later gave the emails to the District Attorney's office and filed a criminal complaint, alleging the content of those emails showed Pope used his public office in criminal ways, Haney testified at Thursday's hearing.

Judge Jules Edwards has previously ruled in The Independent's civil lawsuit against Pope that the emails were public record. That decision allowed them to remain as evidence in the civil lawsuit and also made them publicly accessible in the court record.

"You cannot suppress a public record," Haney said in court.

Judge: Prosecutors must disclose relationships with sheriff

But Smith granted Pope a partial victory on Thursday, ordering prosecutors on the case to disclose records of their relationships with Lafayette Parish Sheriff Mark Garber.

Garber and Scott Police Chief Chad Leger were locked into a race for sheriff in 2015 when Pope held an official press conference to smear Garber, an event that the marshal's emails showed he planned with Leger's campaign. Public officials are prohibited from using public resources for political purposes.

Smith ruled that Haney, First Assistant District Attorney Danny Landry and District Attorney Keith Stutes must produce any evidence of their political support of Garber's campaign, as well as any evidence that they engaged in any social activities with the sheriff.

Pope's attorneys are seeking that evidence in effort to recuse the DA's office from prosecuting the case.

Pope faces two counts of perjury and five counts of malfeasance in office related to evidence produced in the public records lawsuit. His trial date is set for Feb. 20.

His attorneys told the judge that date is still tentative, as they may appeal the judge's Thursday ruling against their effort to suppress the emails from the case.

Haney said he'd like to see a final deadline for Pope to submit motions in the case, but Smith said there still may be a need for more hearings as discovery is produced.

"If we start filing frivolous motions as we come up on the trial date, then we'll have a problem. We'll cross that bridge when we get there," Smith said.

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