State Supreme Court rejects Brian Pope’s appeal

1:39 PM, Nov 07, 2016
12:05 PM, Jun 28, 2019

The state Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from City Marshal Brian Pope in his ongoing dispute with a local newspaper over public records requests.

Back in September, an appeals court has rejected City Marshal Brian Pope’s argument that a local newspaper could not sue him for his failure to comply with public records requests.

In that ruling, a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeal denied Pope’s argument that the reporter who made the request had to sue him. If he had won that argument, his attorneys say, the entire litigation – which has gone on for almost a year now – would be reversed and the newspaper would have start from square one.

The appeals court disagreed, finding Pope’s arguments “unpersuasive” and his citing of cases “misplaced.”

On Monday, the state Supreme Court issued a list of opinions issued and appeals denied, and Pope’s case was on that list as denied.

Occasionally, one or two justices will disagree with a denial, and their names are added to the list because they would grant the appeal. In Pope’s case, no justice was listed as being willing to hear his appeal.

We reached out to Pope’s attorney, Kevin Stockstill, but we haven’t heard back from him yet.

In addition to this protracted civil dispute with the Independent, Pope also is facing criminal charges. In August, a grand jury indicted him on two counts of perjury and three counts use of public funds to urge electors to vote for or against a candidate.  All five charges are felonies. His bond was set at $25,000. The grand jury has met again to discuss his case, and more testimony was obtained, but so far the jury has not reported again.

In the September ruling in the civil case, the appeals court did agree with Pope that the newspaper should not be able to reference, in their appeal response documents, any rulings that came after the ruling Pope was appealing. Although those references were “brief,” the court said it would not consider them.

That came around to bite Pope in his next subject of appeal, which was the award of attorney’s fees to the Independent. Because that ruling came after the ruling Pope was appealing, the court wrote, it could not consider that issue.

Pope also argued that the trial court was wrong when it ruled he was “unreasonable and arbitrary” in his failure to respond to the newspaper’s public records requests. The appeals court disagreed, saying that “just any answer” is not sufficient to avoid civil penalties under the state public records law.

Lastly, Pope argued that he did not turn over some records to the newspaper because his lawyers told him not to. The court did not agree with that claim.

Pope’s attorneys consistently stated that there were no documents, but Pope did not produce some documents that were subject to the records law, the court ruled, including emails from Joe Castille, the campaign manager for a sheriff candidate Pope was trying to help, as well as now-Mayor-President Joel Robideaux.

The trial court wasn’t wrong when it ruled Pope “did not rely on advice of his attorney in refusing to turn over these public documents.”

Finally, the court ordered Pope pay the costs of the appeal in the amount of $6,375.09.

Pope’s attorney, Kevin Stockstill said no decision had yet been made about whether or not the decision will be appealed to the state Supreme Court. Stockstill said Pope probably would appeal, since the Third Circuit disagreed with a First Circuit case cited in Pope’s appeal. That’s a “circuit split” that the state high court usually considers. That means two appeals courts in the state rule differently on an issue.

However, the Third Circuit disagreed with the interpretation by the First Circuit of an earlier ruling. At issue is an “agency relationship” between the individual who makes a public records request and the corporation that later files a lawsuit over that request. In the Pope case, the reporter, and later the attorney, who made the requests of Pope were employed by the Independent. Both stated in their requests that they were asking for documents on behalf of the Independent. In the case that has the alleged “split,” there was no relationship between the person who made the request and the organization that later sued over it.

The First Circuit did not address that issue in the ruling referenced by the First Circuit in the later case, the Third Circuit judges wrote. The First Circuit did not decide if the existence of an agency relationship would have justified the lawsuit, and so it’s not proper to cite it in making an agency relationship ruling, the Third Circuit wrote.

Judges Elizabeth Pickett, Billy Ezell and Phyllis Keaty were on the panel.