Saturday, December 8, 2007
Judge: Desegregation order has been violated for years
By DAVID J. MITCHELL
Advocate Florida parishes bureau
Published: Dec 8, 2007 - Page: 3B
A 1979 federal desegregation order that requires free busing for student transfers designed to promote integration in Tangipahoa Parish public schools “has been blatantly violated for years,” a federal judge in New Orleans has found.
U.S. District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle held Tuesday that the order was violated when transfer application forms were distributed throughout the school system saying parents were required to pay for transportation, federal online court records show.
In most cases, the 1979 order requires the opposite: students transferring under the “majority-to-minority” policy get free transportation, court records show.
The policy allows students to transfer from a school where their race is in the majority to one where it is the minority.
The ruling was one of several setbacks Lemelle recently handed the parish School Board since the dormant desegregation litigation was revived earlier this year, court records show. The plaintiffs are the class of black students in the public school system and their parents.
The transfer policy ruling is detailed in minutes from a Nov. 26 telephone conference and follow-up order filed Tuesday, court records show.
Lemelle also has granted or reaffirmed orders recently that do the following, court records show:
Strengthen the position of the court-ordered compliance officer, Arlene Knighten Guerin, and the reconstituted Biracial Committee, an advisory board that looks into desegregation matters on hiring and student discipline.
Raise the construction cost threshold that would require the school system to do court-ordered analyses of building impacts on desegregation. Lemelle set the threshold at a level far less than what school officials had sought, meaning they would have to submit to more court and plaintiff review of construction projects.
Call the entire nine-member School Board, Superintendent Mark Kolwe and Risk Management and Transportation Director Bret Schnadelbach to attend a hearing at 9:30 a.m., Dec. 18, in U.S. District Court at New Orleans.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Nelson Taylor predicted Friday that more could be in store for the board in the coming months: “It’s going to get rougher.”
School Board attorney Alton Lewis disputed the decisions as setbacks, downplaying their significance as mostly just ratifying procedures or authorities already in place.
Lewis said Lemelle called the school officials in to explain the role of and the access due to the compliance officer.
Lewis also said the School Board didn’t oppose the transfer policy corrections and that he didn’t see the decision as unexpected.
The transfer policy has been under the purview of Guerin, a point the School Board noted in its filings.
The board’s filings had prompted Guerin to complain in September that the board was using her as a scapegoat for its failures.
Guerin has acknowledged that the forms were incorrect, saying they had been that way since she took the job in the mid- to late-1980s but that she didn’t realize the problem until plaintiffs’ attorneys took note of it.
In his decision on the transfer policy, Lemelle observed that the plaintiffs’ motion, which he “granted in all regards,” calls for issuing an immediate parishwide notice of the correct policy and giving parents “ample” chance to use the transfers.
Lemelle also noted that the motion calls for having the board pay reasonable reimbursement to parents who paid for transporting children under the policy.
Lemelle also ordered both sides to come up with a “more concrete” plan for free transportation.
In addition to the transfer forms, Lemelle found the 1979 transfer order was violated when priority was given to students who live within attendance zones, court records show.
The 1979 order, in contrast, requires that students trying to transfer from outside an attendance zone be given priority if they do it before the school year starts, court records show.
Sinquefield to join AG
By ADRIAN ANGELETTE
Advocate staff writer
Published: Dec 8, 2007 - Page: 1B
John Sinquefield, the second-ranking official in the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office, has been named the top assistant to Attorney General-elect Buddy Caldwell.
Sinquefield, best known as the lead prosecutor in the conviction of accused serial killer Derrick Todd Lee, will trade the title of first assistant district attorney to become Louisiana’s first assistant attorney general.
Caldwell, who said he and Sinquefield have been friends since they were children growing up in Tallulah, called hiring Sinquefield a key move in getting his office moving.
“This is going to be a one-two-punch that will resonate through the entire state,” Caldwell said Friday.
Sinquefield’s job will be to serve as the administrator for more than 500 employees in criminal and civil divisions, Caldwell said.
Hiring Sinquefield was the first move in locating the best people to serve in the Attorney General’s Office, Caldwell said.
By the time he takes office Jan. 14, Caldwell said, he expects to have the upper management in place and to start searching for ways to improve operations.
“A lot of people in the office already know what the problems are,” Caldwell said. “We’ll also be consulting with respected people who have served in the office in the past.”
Sinquefield, who has worked in the District Attorney’s Office for more than 27 years, said Friday he’s ready for the new challenge.
“I’m looking forward to the chance to do some good statewide rather than being limited to East Baton Rouge Parish,” he said.
Sinquefield said he is abandoning his run for district attorney of East Baton Rouge Parish.
“That’s something I thought very carefully about, but ultimately it was a clear choice for me,” he said.
Everyone who has contributed to his campaign will be offered a complete refund, he said.
Sinquefield was one of the announced candidates for district attorney after Doug Moreau, about three years ago, talked of leaving the job early.
Sinquefield always said he would not run against Moreau. Now the possibility exists that Moreau will serve out his term, which ends late next year, and seek re-election.
“My options have been narrowed significantly,” Moreau said about leaving his job early.
Moreau said his “tentative plans” are to finish out his term. He has not thought about running for re-election.
“That’s something I have to think about,” he said.
Moreau said he was surprised by Sinquefield’s move and now he has the difficult task of filling the top assistant position.
“We’re trying to evaluate what needs to be done to shift people around,” Moreau said. “John has a unique skill set and that’s why he and I got together 17 years ago in the first place.”
“John is a very talented and experienced guy,” Moreau said. “I thought he would have been a fine district attorney.”
Two other Baton Rouge attorneys who have said they will be candidates for district attorney next year are Hillar Moore III and Dan Claitor.
Moore described Sinquefield as a friend for the past 30 years and “probably the best first assistant district attorney the office has ever had.”
As for the upcoming election, Moore said it’s too early to know what impact Sinquefield’s decision will have on the race. Moore also left open the possibility of staying in the race even if Moreau decides to run for re-election.
“I will continue to run as aggressively as I have since I started two years ago,” Moore said.
Claitor said he continues to campaign for the office, and that he’s not certain how Sinquefield’s decision will change the dynamics of the election.
“I’m sure John will find the new job to be a challenge,” Claitor said. “My plans haven’t changed.”
Sinquefield earned his law degree from LSU in 1971. He has worked as head of the special prosecutions division for the Louisiana Department of Justice and as the top assistant to former district attorneys Ossie Brown in Baton Rouge and Richard Ieyoub in Calcasieu Parish.
Ethics violations may mean jail
Jindal wants to put teeth into reform Saturday, December 08, 2007By Ed Anderson
BATON ROUGE -- Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal said Friday he will push legislation at an upcoming special session that will make it a crime punishable by time in jail to violate some state ethics laws.
Speaking to the annual meeting of the Council for a Better Louisiana, a nonpartisan government watchdog group, Jindal did not flesh out details of when he will call lawmakers into the special ethics session or what else might be included in it. He also did not say what types of ethics violations could result in a jail term instead of the current fines and administrative sanctions.
Jindal's speech was similar to his campaign stump rhetoric in which he promised to raise the ethical bar in the state and erase its image of corruption. After his speech, Jindal did not take questions from the audience and left the Baton Rouge Hilton Capitol Center through a back door, avoiding waiting reporters. Council President Barry Erwin said at the beginning of the event that Jindal was on a tight schedule.
Jindal spokeswoman Melissa Sellers said that it is "too early to talk about" details of the session or when it will be held. She said it probably will be called "within a month after the inauguration."
Rep. Jim Tucker, R-Algiers, who is expected to be elected House speaker when the new governor and Legislature are sworn in Jan. 14, said he does not expect the session to be called until after Mardi Gras, possibly Feb. 10.
Jindal, who will be leaving Congress to become governor, he said he expects the federal government to keep its promises to help Louisiana get more money for hurricane recovery but the state is still being asked on Capitol Hill "where is the money really going? Is it going to somebody's pockets or to the victims? . . .
"I want to send a strong, loud message that enough is enough. Corruption is stealing jobs from our people (by keeping companies from locating to the state). We don't have to choose between honesty and effectiveness."
Jindal, who espoused a 31-point ethics overhaul plan during the campaign, said ethics changes made in the special session "will be the foundation on which we will build" the administration.
Jail for violators
He told the estimated 450 guests at the luncheon that ethics law violators should go to jail. "The real consequences for those who break the rules should not be slap on the wrist," he said. "They should go to jail."
Jindal said he also wants to require elected officials to disclose their income and assets because ethical government "starts with transparency in public disclosure." He also he will push for "more meaningful and specific disclosure from lobbyists," more than filing an annual disclosure statement saying who they wined and dined. "People have a right to know who is spending money" to influence public officials.
Including local officials
Sean Reilly, one of Jindal's top transition advisers, provided more details about possible ethics law changes than the governor-elect did during his address. Reilly, a former House member, is chairman of the advisory panel that will submit a report to Jindal and is a leader of Blueprint Louisiana, a consortium of business and civic groups pushing ethics law changes and other legislation.
Reilly confirmed that his panel will recommend that local officials be included in any new requirements for personal financial disclosure by public office-holders. That issue ostensibly caused a disclosure bill to die during the waning hours of the regular session earlier this year.
Legislators are not likely to accept disclosure without including at least some other politicians, Reilly said, though he added that his group is considering whether to exempt officeholders and candidates in the state's smallest jurisdictions, where disclosure is viewed by critics as a barrier to potential candidates.
Reilly said the issue that his group is struggling with most is Jindal's call to bar lawmakers from doing business with the state. While that principle sounds simple enough, Reilly said, his panel is working toward a proposal that will not unnecessarily restrict the opportunity to serve in public office. Among the examples of professionals who should not be barred from running, Reilly said, are public schoolteachers and doctors who accept Medicaid patients.
Teacher pay raises
Jindal also promised to work for additional teacher pay raises, but shied away from indicating what level of raises he has in mind. "We need to pay teachers more," he said. "But it is not only just keeping up with inflation" to keep teachers at or near the Southern regional average.
Jindal said the pay should also include "a component that rewards good teachers" such as awarding bonuses to teachers for meeting certain goals or standards. Under most circumstances, state law prohibits paying bonuses to a state worker.
He also said the state should expand educational programs to keep students from dropping out and preparing them for jobs that do not require a college degree.
Jindal said that he would like to rework the formula now used to finance state colleges and universities, basing it more "on outcome and less on enrollment" as it now is.