More than two months after receiving a public records request for the deposition of Lafayette developer Greg Gachassin, the Louisiana Board of Ethics has responded: request denied.

No reason was given for the lengthy delay in responding.

Photo by Robin May
Developer Greg Gachassin's alleged ethics violations involve Villa Gardens, a single-family low-income development on Patterson Street (pictured), and Cypress Trails, a low-income apartment complex on Sophie Street in north Lafayette.

On June 14, 2012, the Louisiana Board of Ethics voted to charge Gachassin and his Cartesian Co. with violating the state’s Code of Governmental Ethics while he was a member of the Lafayette Public Trust Financing Authority’s board of trustees and again after he resigned from its board. The Ethics Board’s action is much like filing a civil lawsuit against Gachassin.

Greg Gachassin

In much the same fashion as The IND did in its April 2011 cover story “How Gachassin Games the System,” the Ethics Board spelled out in the charges how the local developer laid the foundation for lucrative work with the LPTFA while he was serving as an appointed board member from November 2003 to November 2009. His alleged violations involved Villa Gardens, a single-family low-income development on Patterson Street, and Cypress Trails, a low-income apartment complex on Sophie Street in north Lafayette. In both cases, Gachassin’s Cartesian Co. signed $500,000 consulting contracts with partnerships associated with those projects, which were backed financially and/or initiated by the LPTFA, a public trust that holds millions for the benefit of Lafayette. Through various funding mechanisms, it supports a range of community programs. Gachassin had a similar consulting contract with the Uptown Lofts development downtown, another LPTFA project for which he was paid more than a million dollars.

The Ethics Board accuses The Cartesian Co. of violating two sections of the Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics, one that addresses prohibited contractual agreements between appointed board members and the agency they serve and the other dealing with a two-year restriction for doing business with that agency after the board service ends.

The deposition, as previously reported by this paper, was conducted Jan. 23, the same day the board’s executive secretary, Deborah Grier, received a public records request from The IND. Because the record was not immediately available — it had to be transcribed, which The IND was told could take up to 10 days — the board, by law, had some flexibility in providing it.

Grier did respond that same day: “We have not yet received the document you are requesting with respect to Mr. Gachassin. Upon receipt of the document by this office, a determination will be made as to whether the document can be provided to you as a public record.”

Grier's response denying the record came via email April 12, 2.5 months later, after yet another inquiry from the paper:

Our office is in receipt of your public records request in regards to the above referenced document. The deposition of Greg Gachassin was taken in connection with Ethics Adjudicatory Board Docket No: 2012-10863-Ethics-A. After a review of the deposition by the Board’s counsel, it has been determined that the deposition, which was taken in preparation for trial, contains the mental impressions of the Board’s attorney.

La. R.S. 44:4.1C provides an exception to the Public Records Act which provides that any writing, record, or other account that reflects the mental impressions of an attorney or an expert, obtained or prepared in anticipation of litigation or in preparation for trial are exempt from the Public Records Act.

Because the requested deposition contains the mental impressions of the Board’s attorney and is a record made in preparation for trial, it is not a public record. As such, there are no public documents which satisfy your request.

The IND maintains the record is public and sent its response to the denial of it today:

We strongly assert that the Gachassin deposition is a matter of public record and would like to ask that you separate the "mental impressions" included in it from the rest of the public record:

LSA-R.S. 44:32(B): “If any record contains material which is not a public record, the custodian may separate the nonpublic record and make the public record available for examination.”

Given the very broad construction afforded the Public Records Law, the courts have assumed without a whole lot of analysis that the custodian may segregate non-public material and withhold it, but that the intermingled public material must be disclosed whether the remainder is redacted or not. “Simply because material requested may contain nonpublic records is not a reason for restricting access.” Elliott v. District Attorney of Baton Rouge, 664 So.2d 122, 126 (La.App. 1st Cir. 1995).

Close on point to the facts at hand is Alliance for Affordable Energy v. Frick, 96-1763 (La.App. 4th Cir. 5/28/97), 695 So.2d 1126, which pointed out that the Public Record’s Law’s built-in work-product exception, LSA-R.S. 44:4.1(C), is more narrowly tailored than and (as the more-specific provision) applies to the exclusion of the Code of Civil Procedure’s work-product rule (LSA-C.C.Pr. Art. 1424) and the Code of Evidence’s rule on testimonial privilege (LSA-C.E. Art. 506).

In Frick and in the case on which it heavily relies, Dutton v. Guste, 395 So.2d 683 (La. 1981), that distinction meant material which would not be discoverable in civil litigation nevertheless was obtainable because it was subject to the Public Records Law.

Also back in January, The IND asked Board of Ethics spokeswoman Alainna Giacone whether any additional depositions had been scheduled in the case, specifically whether LPTFA attorney Richard Becker would be deposed. The IND has long maintained that Becker and the LPTFA board were complicit in Gachassin's alleged ethics violations.

Giacone said no additional depositions had been scheduled at the time.

A telephone status conference that includes Gachassin, his legal counsel (his lead attorney is Gray Sexton, who was the ethics board’s chief administrator for four decades) and Board of Ethics Deputy General Counsel Michael Dupree is scheduled for Monday, April 22.

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