Just another day in the soap opera we know as Louisiana state government.
And it could only happen in Louisiana.
The LSPRS Board was meeting to wrestle with the problem of Act 859 which started out as Senate Bill 294 by State Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans), a bill ostensibly dealing with police officer disciplinary matters but which morphed into what retired state trooper Robert Landry described as an “underhanded, unethical, unconstitutional” amendment giving Edmonson an extra $55,000 per year in retirement income.
Special legal counsel Robert Klausner, a renowned pension system authority from Florida, advised the board that it had no legal standing to file suit in an attempt to have the new law declared unconstitutional but added almost parenthetically that any citizen of Louisiana could file suit.
“Could I file?” Kennedy asked. “I’m a taxpayer.”
Klausner said that Kennedy could indeed initiate litigation and if the board failed to defend it, legal expenses would be minimal and the matter could be settled once and for all as opposed to waiting to see if the legislature would repeal the act next year and if Gov. Bobby Jindal would sign such a bill.
While the board was tossing the issue back and forth and speculating whether or not Attorney General Buddy Caldwell would take it upon himself to defend such a suit should the board refuse to, Claitor left the meeting and apparently called his attorney to instruct him to file suit on behalf of Claitor.
Earlier, Claitor had spoken to the board, saying that passage of the Edmonson Amendment was not open or transparent. “It was an unconstitutional act because it was not published in advance, and was not germane to retirement issue. “I would ask that you exercise your fiduciary duty,” he said. Apologizing for having voted for the amendment because he was told that conference committee had addressed his earlier concerns about police disciplinary matters, he said, “I’m sorry to ask you to clean up this mess.”
The “mess” occurred when State Sen. Neil Riser, a member of the conference committee composed of three members each from the House and Senate, inserted the crucial language that gave Edmonson his financial windfall.
Basically, the amendment allowed Edmonson to revoke his decision years ago to enter into the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) which froze his retirement at 100 percent of his captain’s salary of $79,000. The revocation would have allowed him to instead retire at 100 percent of his $134,000 colonel’s salary.
LSPRS actuary Charles Hall told the board that the upfront cost of fully funding the benefits at their present, or discounted, value would be a $359,000 investment to cover the increased benefits for Edmonson and a Houma trooper who also happened to qualify under language of the amendment. That amount is $59,000 more than the original $300,000 estimated cost provided three days after the amendment’s passage. Kennedy pointed out that the actual cost would be in excess of a million dollars and he asked Hall to provide him with a computation of those figures.
Hall said he received a request to “call a trooper to discuss a bill” on the Friday before the Monday, June 2 adjournment of the legislature.
He said it became clear in his conversation with the state trooper that “they wanted to introduce an amendment to enhance (Edmonson’s) benefits.”
After a few routine questions, Kennedy asked Hall if he knew the name of the trooper whom he was asked to call and to whom he subsequently talked.
“Charles Dupuy,” Hall answered.
Dupuy is Edmonson’s Chief of Staff who has benefitted from a 52 percent increase, from $80,500 to $122,200, since Edmonson’s appointment as State Police Superintendent by Gov. Bobby Jindal in January of 2008. Dupuy’s wife, Kelly Dupuy, also has received increases in salary, from $65,000 to $80,600.
It was the first time that anyone has officially identified Dupuy as the source of the Edmonson Amendment.
Dupuy, a member of the LSPRS Board, was not in attendance at Thursday’s board meeting.
Riser, who first denied any involvement with introducing the amendment during the conference committee meeting in June but later admitted his complicity but said he did not realize it would benefit only two people.
Hall, however, in speaking to the board on Thursday cast doubt on that part of Riser’s story as well when he said it was believed that the amendment would affect only one person—Edmonson.
“This act has hurt the reputation of the state,” Kennedy said. “Someone pushed hard for this law. If I sue and the attorney general decides to defend it, I will begin taking depositions. I will send out subpoenas and we will find out who was behind this.”
Kennedy said he would foot the cost of the litigation which he said would be minimal provided the attorney general does not opt to defend the law.
The board, which had been seen as heavily stacked with Edmonson and Jindal loyalists, had been expected to display reluctance to go against the two. Instead, board members were unanimous in authorizing Kennedy to proceed with personal litigation in his “individual capacity.”
But even as Kennedy was making his offer, Claitor was already setting in motion his own litigation which he obviously had instructed Baton Rouge attorney Jack Whitehead to prepare and to stand by to file with the 19th JDC clerk’s office.
In fact, Whitehead even prepared a press release to accompany Claitor’s lawsuit, making it obvious that Claitor had planned the move well in advance of the board meeting.
Claitor, in his petition, asked the court to find Act 859 unconstitutional on four grounds:
Act 859 failed to meet the “one object” requirement of the Louisiana State Constitution;
The act did not meet the germaneness requirement of the state constitution;
No public notice was provided as required by the constitution for retirement-related legislation and the bill itself never indicated proper notice was given, also in violation of the constitution;
The source of funding for the increased benefit is the LSPRS “Employment Experience Account,” which is reserved as the source of future cost of living benefits and payments toward the system’s unfunded accrued liability.
To read the full text of Claitor’s litigation, click here: Press Release Letter & Petition
Baton Rouge Judge Janice Clark issued a temporary restraining order until she can hold a hearing on Sept. 16. To read her order, click here: CLAITOR VS LSP
The real kicker came when a two-page letter from Edmonson to the board was read. In that letter, Edmonson said he fully supports assertions “from legislators and others that the bill should be repealed.”
Then, addressing board Chairman Frank Besson, Edmonson said, “Despite the special counsel’s (Klausner) recommendation, I would strongly urge that as chairman, you ask the board to authorize the system attorneys to file the necessary documents to obtain a final declaratory judgment on this amendment. That judgment will provide the necessary finality to this matter.”
That represents a complete 180 from Edmonson’s earlier admission that a “staffer” had originally approached him about the prospects of the amendment’s benefitting him and his instructions to proceed.
It was a move of necessity brought on by a groundswell of sentiment against the amendment by retired state troopers which forced Edmonson to have a change of heart in an effort to save face and to avoid further embarrassment to his boss, Gov. Jindal. Because make no mistake, he wanted that money and Dupuy, no matter what anyone says to the contrary, did not take this upon himself as a solo act. It’s pretty obvious that Dupuy initiated the amendment at the direction of his boss who in turn had the blessings from the Fourth Floor and Riser was simply the instrument by which the amendment was inserted. That makes Jindal, Riser, Edmonson and Dupuy all complicit in a devious little scheme to reward Edmonson at the expense of every other state employee, including state troopers and retirees across the board.
That’s the way this governor and his band of sycophants work.
Kennedy, when told after the meeting adjourned of Claitor’s lawsuit, said, “That’s great. I’m glad. But I’m still moving forward with my own lawsuit. This is a bad law and it must be addressed.”