Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Written by The Independent Staff

C’est Bon

Baton Rouge daily The Advocate was the sole newspaper honored last week with the national Sunshine Award by The Society of Professional Journalists. The Advocate won the award, given for important contributions in the pursuit of open government, for a package of stories earlier this year detailing police harassment and brutality of Katrina refugees. The Advocate spent four years and tremendous resources fighting to obtain access to information for the story. In July 2006, the paper sued the Baton Rouge Police Department for access to the documents related to its internal affairs probe of the allegations. It took a Louisiana Supreme Court ruling this year before the department finally relented and released the information. In today’s environment of dwindling newspaper budgets, the paper’s financial commitment to the public’s right to know is rare and deserves recognition. Kudos.

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The circumstances surrounding the firing of Assistant City Prosecutor Marcus Allen couldn’t be more bizarre. Asked to resign following a charge from last month that he assaulted a bail bondsman, Allen refused, and then was summarily fired. D.A. Mike Harson says Allen is accused of pushing bondsman Vaughn M. Swilley outside the parish courthouse. The two had begun arguing inside a courtroom over the bond on one of Allen’s defense clients and the argument ended up spilling out onto the street. While Allen appears to be one lawyer who will literally fight for his clients, we’d like to see our local attorneys engage in more civil discourse.

The state’s former head of Alcohol and Tobacco Control evidently couldn’t handle his Powerade. And then there was the unlimited access to the aptly named state database, “Voyager.” Former Commissioner Murphy Painter resigned abruptly on Aug. 16 amid allegations that he stalked his assistant, Kelli Suire, cruising past her residence at 5 a.m. and calling to let her know he knew she was up early, inviting her to sleep over at his house and attempting to coerce her into a romantic relationship she wasn’t interested in — frightening her into going to the Louisiana Office of State Inspector General for help. Painter is also accused of perusing the personal files of fellow employees, members of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s staff, Suire and her attorney, Jill L. Craft, on the state’s database. The governor’s office gave him a choice of whether to be fired or resign, based on Painter’s alleged abuse of power. Painter denies committing a criminal offense and declares he is sticking around. “I don’t care,” he told WAFB TV in Baton Rouge. “Beat me up, try to screw me all you want, I’m not going to surrender.”

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