|Photo By Robin May|
Gachassin’s lead attorney, Gray Sexton, is the Baton Rouge lawyer who served as ethics administrator for nearly four decades before turning his expertise into a lucrative post-administration job defending public figures and others against ethics charges. Because he knows the ropes so well, Sexton is doing a good job of making life difficult for his former employer.
In June 2012 the Louisiana Board of Ethics voted to charge Gachassin and his development consulting entity, The Cartesian Company, 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 LPTFA's board. The ethics board’s action is much like filing a civil lawsuit against Gachassin.
In much the same fashion as The IND did in its April 2011 cover story “How Gachassin Games the System,” the ethics board spells out 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 Company signed approximately $500,000 consulting contracts with those projects, which were backed financially and/or initiated by the LPTFA, a public trust that holds millions for the benefit of the city of Lafayette.
The ethics board accuses Gachassin and his company 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.
In its July 12 ruling, a three-member panel of the Ethics Adjudicatory Board (the entity that will hear the case) ordered the state ethics board to turn over the names, addresses and telephone numbers of every person its staff believes has relevant information on the matter; everyone who was talked to by the staff or participated in the investigation; the name of every staff member who helped draft, review and who signed the confidential investigative reports; each fact the board relied on to bring the charges; and how Gachassin and his Cartesian Company allegedly violated the ethics code. The information identifying the complainant must be redacted, the judges said.
In deciding in favor of Gachassin, the administrative law judges ruled that the records are not protected under the work product privilege, attorney-client privilege or by any state statute. The judges noted that the board’s argument that its investigative and prosecutorial functions are separate and distinct is the very rationale that requires it to turn the documents over. In other words, the investigative phase is an objective search for the facts, and the work product does not become confidential until it is prepared in connection with potential litigation.
The board, however, does not have to release audio recordings of board member discussions or talks with staff, nor does it have to produce recordings or minutes from any executive-session discussions on the matter.
Read the full ruling here.
The ethics board isn't talking, having declined to answer The IND's questions about whether it has turned over the documents and other discovery and how much time it has to do so. "At this time, our office has no comment with respect to the pending litigation in this matter," Executive Secretary Deborah Grier writes in an email response.
According to its website, the ethics board has the authority to censure an elected official or other person and to impose a fine of not more than $10,000 per violation. It can place restrictions on a former public servant like Gachassin to prohibit him from entering into business relationships with the former agency, and can rescind contracts, permits and licenses — without contractual liability to the public — whenever it finds that a violation has influenced the making of such contract.
The board can levy penalties if an investigation reveals that any public servant or other person has violated the code to his economic advantage; penalties can include the amount of such economic advantage plus one half. The board also is authorized to order the forfeiture of any payments made in violation of the code.
The IND put in a public records request for the documents that are being produced for Gachassin, but that request was denied. Writes the board’s executive secretary, Deborah Grier:
While he will now get to see just about all of the evidence the board collected, Gachassin has since run into bigger problems than the ethics charges — problems requiring an attorney of a different specialty. Read more here.
The Order Compelling Discovery of July 12, 2013 is limited to the affected party, Mr. Gachassin. Therefore, the documents you requested relating to the July 12, 2013 “Order Compelling Discovery” are subject to the privilege contained in La. R.S. 42:1141K.
La. R.S. 42:1141.4K provides that the records of the Board prepared or obtained in connection with investigations conducted by the Board shall be deemed confidential and privileged. La. R.S. 44:4.1B(28) incorporates the confidential and privileged nature of the Board’s records regarding investigations into an exception to the public records law. As such, at this time, there are no public documents which satisfy your request.