Sam Hanna Jr.

Without a doubt, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has the market cornered in taking some negative publicity and turning it into an all-out public relations nightmare.

That’s about the most succinct description that comes to mind in light of Landry’s most recent feud with Louisiana’s largest and most widely read newspaper, The Advocate.

Landry managed to turn himself into public enemy No. 1 in the eyes of The Advocate last week when he sued an Advocate reporter, Andrea Gallo, over a public records request. The request Gallo had filed with Landry’s office sought copies of sexual harassment complaints against one of Landry’s assistant attorney generals.

At the heart of this matter rests the details that led to Assistant Attorney General Pat Magee taking a $20,559 cut in pay as part of a disciplinary action over Magee apparently not minding his p’s and q’s at the office. It seems a complaint, or complaints, were filed against Magee over the manner in which he treated, or spoke to, at least one other member of Landry’s staff.

Gallo first filed her public records request in December. At the time, Landry responded and said the matter was an ongoing investigation and thus, Gallo couldn’t have the information she requested because it was considered confidential. The following month Gallo telephoned Landry’s office and learned Magee was on the job. She apparently inquired about the pending public records request, and in response Landry’s office released a letter outlining the disciplinary action taken against Magee, which included the pay cut and orders for Magee to take training courses to assist him in developing “emotional intelligence, professionalism in the workplace, conflict management and leadership skills.” Still, Landry’s office refused to release the complaints filed against Magee, who, ironically, serves as the head of the attorney general’s criminal division.

As you may have expected, The Advocate’s attorney was in contact with Landry’s office, including informing the attorney general that The Advocate would file a lawsuit, if necessary, to compel Landry to comply with the public records law and disclose copies of the complaints against Magee.

Landry, though, beat The Advocate to the punch and filed his lawsuit against Gallo, not the newspaper itself. Landry’s lawsuit asks a judge to issue a declaratory judgement denying Gallo’s public records request and sealing the proceedings. The attorney general’s lawsuit also asks a judge to assign all costs related to the litigation to Gallo.

Landry’s lawsuit is pending, of course.

Landry’s lawsuit should remind our readers of a similar action taken by the Fourth Judicial District Court in Morehouse and Ouachita parishes. In 2015, Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Stephens Winters filed a lawsuit against The Ouachita Citizen over the newspaper’s public records request for a copy of district court law clerk Allyson Campbell’s personnel file. Like Landry’s lawsuit, Winters’ suit asked a judge to issue a declaratory judgement denying The Ouachita Citizen’s request.

Campbell, as you may recall, was sued, along with five current and former judges in the Fourth Judicial District, by a Monroe businessman who contended Campbell destroyed documents the businessman filed with the district court, and he alleged the five defendant judges conspired to cover up her behavior. Stanley Palowsky III’s lawsuit against Campbell and the judges is still pending.

As far as Campbell’s personnel file was concerned, a special appointed judge, known as an ad hoc, sided with Winters, who as chief judge at the time presented himself as representing the district court. In her ruling, Judge Anne Simon said Campbell’s right to privacy outweighed the public’s right to know, which of course meant The Ouachita Citizen could not have a copy of Campbell’s personnel file.

For what it’s worth, The Ouachita Citizen later obtained at least a portion of Campbell’s personnel file when it was included in a criminal investigation report filed with then-Fourth Judicial District Attorney Jerry Jones’ office and later with the district court. Jones recused from the case. The attorney general’s office stepped in and eventually chose not to pursue criminal charges against Campbell because it claimed a conviction would not stand up on appeal. Landry was the attorney general at the time.

And for what it’s worth, Landry’s office is currently providing a taxpayer-funded attorney to represent Campbell in Palowsky’s lawsuit against the law clerk and judges. You see, she’s entitled to the taxpayer-funded representation because she’s a public employee.

It’s difficult under most circumstances to find fault with an employer protecting an employee’s right to privacy. At least that would be the case involving privately owned businesses and their employees.

Magee, in the Attorney General’s office, is a public employee whose salary is paid with taxpayer money, just as Campbell, at the Fourth Judicial District Court, is a public employee as well and whose salary is funded by the taxpayers too. The right to privacy, per se, becomes less of an issue when dealing with allegations of wrongdoing logged against public employees like Magee and Campbell.

Regardless of how one might feel about the right to privacy involving public employees, Landry’s decision to sue a newspaper reporter over a public records request raises an important question: What is Landry trying to hide?

After all, we’re still trying to figure out why a host of judges in Monroe are trying to protect an inconsequential law clerk.

Trust me. The truth will surface eventually.

Sam Hanna Jr. can be reached by phone at 318-805-8158 or e-mail at samhannajr@samhannajr.com.

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