A Lafayette City Court judge has responded to an LCG lawsuit, saying he doesn't understand why a lawsuit was filed over records to which LCG has had access since November.
On Monday, our media partners at The Advocate reported that Lafayette Consolidated Government filed a lawsuit against Gary McGoffin, attorney for Lafayette City Court, alleging a violation of the Louisiana Public Records Law.
As the newspaper reported, McGoffin is considered a local expert on the state's public records and open meetings laws.
McGoffin has represented various local news organizations in several separate cases involving LCG's failure to comply with public records laws. He was the attorney who handled the public records suit filed by The Independent against former City Marshal Brian Pope, which led to Pope's indictment and conviction on several charges. More recently, McGoffin also has sued LCG on behalf of a family disputing the city's quick-take drainage process.
In the lawsuit filed Monday, LCG alleges McGoffin, on behalf of City Court, did not provide public documents requested Nov. 2, 2021, as part of an LCG audit, the Advocate reported. You can read the petition filed Monday for yourself by scrolling down. To read The Advocate's story about it, click here.
The LCG petition says that a forensic audit was launched after "LCG became aware of several instances of questionable spending of court funds..." and details some of those instances, which include a $1,100 tab at Ruth's Chris and a $600 tab at a New Orleans restaurant.
The Metairie auditing firm hired by LCG to look into the spending at the court requested some specific records, and LCG in turn requested them from McGoffin. Those records were never provided, the LCG suit alleges.
But a 34-page document forwarded to the media by City Court Judge Doug Saloom on Tuesday evening tells a different story.
"Yesterday, LCG filed a public records lawsuit to compel the production of City Court financial records. This action is puzzling because the original, hard copies of the requested records were made available on November 16, 2021. The cost of reproducing those records as requested by LCG would have exceeded $1,500.00 of taxpayer funds. The documents remain available for review by LCG at the City Court or copies could be made at LCG’s expense," Saloom wrote. "Since then, three attempts were made to deliver the QuickBooks accounts in digital format in addition to the hard copy documentation that was already produced and remains available."
Saloom said he also received a call from the Legislative Auditor's office about a complaint he received, but their investigation "found nothing" that would trigger a complete audit or any report at all.
"Last October, I was contacted by the Office of the Legislative Auditor regarding a complaint made to that Office regarding the use of court funds. I personally met with several auditors who requested the City Court financial records, and personal credit card receipts, dating back to January 1, 2018. All of the records were provided to the legislative auditor for review and copying. The records that they reviewed are included in the records which have been sitting at the City Court for LCG to review since November 16, 2021," Saloom wrote. "On April 1 of this year, I met with several representatives of the Legislative Auditor who told me, they had found nothing, I repeat nothing, that would lead them to do a complete audit and that therefore they would not write a report. I was told that as far as the Office of the Legislative Auditor was concerned, the matter was closed."
Saloom attached correspondence that passed among McGoffin and other LCG attorneys which he says shows that McGoffin told Logan in November that there were some documents provided on USB drive as well as "ten boxes that can physically be reviewed on-site."
There's also an email to McGoffin from an LCG employee dated in April, stating that the documents "have been pulled and boxed and sitting for months."
Louisiana public records law does not require any records custodian to provide hard copies of public records for free - although it does not forbid that, either. In general, when KATC Investigates obtains hard copies there is a bill when there are a large number of documents provided. The law also allows anyone who wants to look at public records to see them, at no charge, in the custodian's offices. In other words, if you want to see public records at City Court but don't want to pay for hard copies, you can go to City Court and look at the records for yourself at no charge.
If you'd like to read more about Louisiana's public records laws and open meetings laws, this document from the Public Affairs Research Council is a good resource and explains it in plain language.
Here's the petition filed by LCG, followed by the document forwarded by Judge Saloom on Tuesday: