LAFAYETTE, La. — UPDATE: 6:42 p.m.
The jury has asked for two transcripts in the case: a transcript of the deposition the Marshal gave in the Independent suit, and a transcript of the press conference he gave regarding then-candidate Mark Garber.
The judge allowed the jury to have the presser transcript, but told the jury they would have to rely on their memories of the deposition testimony. The judge said the transcript of the press conference had been allowed into evidence, and that is why the jury was allowed to see it.
The Prosecution and Defense have presented their closing arguments in the felony criminal trial of Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope.
Now, the jury will be given instruction and begin deliberating. We have a crew in the courtroom and will have an update as soon as the decision is handed down.
Both sides rested yesterday. Pope did not testify.
During the trial, jurors heard Pope testify via a deposition he gave in a lawsuit filed against him by the Independent Weekly, a Lafayette newspaper, over public records. That lawsuit gave rise to the charges against him; the newspaper was investigating Pope’s involvement in the 2015 Lafayette Parish Sheriff campaign.
Pope faces seven felony counts: two counts of perjury and five counts of malfeasance. If convicted of a felony, Pope would be removed from office if he’s unsuccessful in appealing the conviction.
As soon as this trial is over, whatever the outcome, Pope will begin preparation for a second criminal trial on a September indictment accusing him of malfeasance in office for misusing marshal office funds. To read about that indictment, click here.
The charges he’s facing in the ongoing trial stem from a lawsuit filed by The Independent Weekly, a Lafayette newspaper that sued the marshal over a public records request related to a press conference he held during the last election for Lafayette Sheriff.
In his closing argument, Assistant District Attorney Alan Haney discussed the perjury and malfeasance laws, and played clips of Pope’s deposition for the jury.
“I’m not here to speculate, I’m here to present you with hard evidence of what this is about,” Haney told the jury.
He told jurors that they saw Pope stalling, fumbling and evading in the deposition. He pointed out that Pope deleted emails related to the investigation.
“Actions speak louder than words,” Haney said. “That’s proof of a guilty conscience. He knows that he’s been caught.”
Haney also discussed the October 2015 press conference. At that presser, Pope, in his dress uniform, stood in front of his office seal with his employees arrayed behind him and attacked then-candidate Mark Garber. Haney said those employees were on the public dime when that press conference happened, and he reminded jurors that Pope testified in the deposition that all of his employees serve at his pleasure. Jurors saw video of the presser again.
“Are we going to allow this? Are we going to take our oath seriously?” Haney said.
He also went over evidence of Pope’s contact with campaigner Joe Castille, who was supporting Garber’s opponent, as well as evidence of Pope’s involvement in the hiring of a person to file a motion to unseal a divorce case involving Garber. Haney said Pope hired a lawyer with marshal’s office funds to hire the person and to file the motion. That attorney, Charles Middleton, is under indictment accused of perjury in this case. His trial is set for December.
When the district attorney began questioning Marshal employees about all these things, Pope used public money to hire an attorney to represent them – but after the questioning took place, Haney said. That lawyer had a half-hour meeting with Pope and Pope’s attorney after the questioning, Haney said.
Pope wanted to know what was said, that’s why he used public money to hire the attorney, Haney said. Pope thinks the office belongs to him; that it doesn’t belong to the public, Haney said.
“Brian Pope thinks he is the City Marshal’s Office,” he said.
He reminded jurors that Pope testified that he is “a political figure. I can use my office for my campaign,” in the deposition.
When a judge found Pope in contempt of court for his actions in the Independent situation, he used marshal’s office funds to pay a lawyer $10,000 to write his appeal, Haney said.
“Brian Pope did not follow the rules of court, and the public paid $10,000 for his decision,” Haney said. “Are we going to say that money doesn’t belong to you? We cannot let this stand. The public’s money is precious. That money should not be misused.”
Haney said he presented 11 witnesses as well as a nearly three hour deposition “because I really wanted you to get to know Brian Pope.” Haney urged jurors to “hold (Pope) to his duties; hold him to his oath.”
Defense attorney John McLindon’s closing argument asserted that the state didn’t prove it’s case and that Pope is innocent. McLindon argued that Pope had no intent to commit malfeasance in office, and specific criminal intent is required by statute.
When the newspaper made public records requests, Pope didn’t conceal records or try to cover anything up, he simply exerted a privilege he felt he had the right to exert, McLindon argued. He also argued that Pope had the right to appeal his contempt of court conviction.
In response to the argument about the attorney Pope hired for his employees once the DA’s investigation began, McLindon argued that Pope was trying to save money by hiring only one lawyer.
He also argued that the press conference only lasted a few minutes and implied that employees could have been on their break when it happened. Employees are entitled to take breaks whenever they want, McLindon argued, and Pope didn’t know if the employees standing behind him at the presser were on their break or not.
McLindon also argued that Pope, whose office serves warrants issued by city court regarding misdemeanors and traffic tickets, had a responsibility to hold the press conference – which was about a sheriff’s immigration policy that Garber had no authority over – as a law enforcement officer.
Pope was the only local law enforcement officer who was “courageous” enough to hold the press conference, he said.
McLindon argued that Gary McGoffin, the attorney for the Independent, tried to “trick” Pope during the deposition. He said he helped witnesses throughout the trial “refresh their memory,” but Pope went into the deposition “cold” and “now they say that he lied.”
He accused McGoffin of having “an ax to grind” against Pope, and said McGoffin went to the DA to urge this investigation.
Regarding the email blast on campaign material that Pope is accused of authorizing, McLindon argued it could have been “accidentally clicked.”
McLindon also argued that Middleton was mistaken about the letter he sent.
“Brian is not guilty, and they did not meet their burden of proof,” McLindon said.