A district judge on Wednesday ordered Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope to jail, finding the marshal has not made a good-faith effort to complete the terms of his probation.
“Today is a good day to go to jail,” 15th Judicial District Judge Jules Edwards told the marshal. People in the courtroom applauded as a bailiff escorted Pope out of the courtroom.
Edwards has presided over the public-records lawsuit against Pope since late 2015, when The Independent sued him for refusing to turn over emails sent to and from his government account. Edwards convicted the marshal of contempt-of-court in that case, as some of the requested records had been deleted from Pope’s email account by the time he was court-ordered to release them.
All but seven days of Pope’s 30-day jail sentence in that conviction had been suspended until Wednesday, when Edwards found the marshal “has done nothing — nothing — to comply with the conditions of his probation.”
Representatives from The Independent attended the hearing, including attorney Gary McGoffin, who’s represented the now-shuttered newspaper throughout its public records lawsuit.
McGoffin said after the hearing that he reacted with “real disappointment that it took this to have a public official honor his oath and duty.”
He said the marshal’s case serves as an example of the importance of the public’s access to the government’s records.
“I think it’s also important in holding the public officials accountable,” McGoffin said. “Many still believe those records are theirs, instead of ours. The public pays for them. It’s the public history, the public business. The public’s entitled to them.”
Pope’s probation conditions required the marshal to perform 173 hours of community service by educating public employees on public-records compliance. To date, Pope has not completed any of those hours, which equal almost 22 eight-hour workdays.
The inaction had already led Edwards to reprimand Pope in March 2017, when he first called on the marshal to explain why he’s made no effort to serve his sentence. He later told Pope he could do litter abatement to help meet the hourly requirement.
Pope completed his first monthly litter-abatement shift in December , days before he was scheduled to appear before Edwards on whether he had been meeting his probation requirements.
The same month, an effort to recall Pope fell short. As soon as the organizers announced the effort failed, Pope’s deputy marshals arrested the recall co-chair, Steven Wilkerson, on a 20-year-old misdemeanor warrant.
Wilkerson also attended Wednesday’s hearing, watching Pope’s peers escort the marshal in handcuffs and leg shackles from the courthouse to the jail.
“You know, I don’t wish failure upon anyone,” Wilkerson said. “I would have preferred to see Marshal Pope make amends and do the right thing. But in failing to do so, the court acted appropriately. I’m sorry that it came to this. I wish he had acted appropriately and shown remorse.”
Pope brought a new attorney, Skip Phillips, to represent him at Wednesday’s hearing.
Edwards asked Phillips to present evidence of the marshal’s “good-faith attempts” to complete his community service.
Phillips told Edwards the marshal “just recently” contacted the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and the Louisiana Marshals Association to begin arrangements for Pope to instruct on public-records compliance. Phillips said such service relies on other people’s schedules and asked the judge to allow Pope until the November deadline to get the work done.
Edwards said he already recommended that the marshal use his public-access television show, “which he has complete control over,” to perform the service. But still, Edwards said, “the marshal has done nothing.
“The marshal only responds when I call a hearing,” and then he brings in lawyers to plead for more time, Edwards said.
“I think I have bent over backwards to help the marshal,” he said.
Edwards gave Pope credit for the seven days he served on house arrest in November 2016, when the state Supreme Court refused to hear his case on appeal. He will serve 23 days in the Lafayette Parish jail.
A seven-count felony indictment against Pope is still pending.
Pope is accused of five counts of malfeasance in office and two counts of perjury on allegations he misused public money and conducted illegal campaign activity on the public’s dime.
The next court date in that case is set for March 26, with trial set for April.