2019 FOP Legal for NOPD

Each year, I like to take a look back at the preceding year to give the members of the Crescent City Lodge of the FOP an overview of the disciplinary system in New Orleans and the services I provided to members of the FOP Legal Defense Plan. It has been pretty consistent the past few years and this year is no different.

I would like to start by pointing out that every case, whether you are an accused officer or a witness officer is the kind of case you should call me about. I regularly have officers tell me that they didn’t call because they didn’t think it was a big deal or because I might be too busy for them. Unfortunately, this commonly happens after a not so big deal has become a big deal. I have been representing police officers since I graduated from law school. So, I understand that officers don’t always get a whole lot of notice before finding themselves involved in an investigation or being notified of a Civil Service extension hearing. My practice has been built around those types of cases from the beginning.

You are guaranteed legal representation by the Louisiana Police Officer’s Bill of Rights. You should always take advantage of that. Having a legal representative has a number of benefits. First of all, I will make sure your rights as listed in La. R.S. 40:2531 are protected. Hopefully, we can avoid little to nothing cases turning into a big deal. Having an attorney from the FOP Legal Plan also makes you eligible for the Salary Reimbursement Option where the FOP will repay you for up to 5 suspension days in lieu of appealing the disciplinary action. There is no downside to exercising your right to counsel.

I would also like to emphasize that when I represent a police officer through the FOP’s  Legal Defense Plan, The attorney-client relationship exists between me and the officer I represent, not the FOP. So, any privilege exists between me and the officer. Any decisions are made based on conversations between me and the officer. If you are a member of the FOP Legal Defense Plan, we will be there for you. We don’t ask any questions or make any judgments. The FOP does not interfere in my representation of any Legal Plan member. There is no downside to exercising your right to counsel.

In 2019, I represented 412 individual officers in one capacity of another. There were at least 726 PIB control #’s cut by the NOPD in 2019. There were certainly more than that.

In 2019, I represented officers at 237 interviews (statements) with investigators as part of formal disciplinary investigations. I represented officers at 100 pre-disciplinary hearings. I represented officers in 11 Rule 9 hearings, 36 Accident Review Board hearings, and 111 extension request hearings. I represented 13 officers in 5 officer-involved shootings.

I would expect 2020 to look a lot like 2019. Feel free to call and I will be there for you — there is no downside to exercising your right to counsel.

FYI – Civil Service Appeals

Rule II, Section 4.3 of the Rules for the New Orleans Civil Service Commission state as follows:

“Appeals to the Commission must be actually received in the Department of Civil Service no later than the close of business on the thirtieth (30th) calendar day following the date of the disciplinary letter provided to the employee by the Appointing Authority. Should the thirtieth (30th) calendar day fall on a weekend or an official city holiday, written appeals will be accepted no later than the close of business on the workday immediately following. The date the appeal is date/time stamped in the Civil Service Office shall be presumed to be the date of receipt of an appeal. (amended June 10, 1982; August 25, 1983; January 21, 1988, effective February 1, 1988).”

Why is this important? This is important because if you want to appeal discipline taken against you, the appeal has to be filed in a timely manner.

IF YOU DO NOT FILE THE APPEAL WITHIN THIRTY (30) DAYS OF IMPOSITION OF THE DISCIPLINE, THEN THEY WILL ALLOW YOU TO FILE AN APPEAL, BUT IT WILL BE THROWN OUT WHEN THE CITY FILES A MOTION FOR SUMMARY DISPOSITION.

I habitually explain to my officers upon conclusion of a disciplinary hearing the following information:

  1. The hearing officer (Commander, Deputy Chief, Superintendent’s Disciplinary Committee) only makes a recommendation because only the Superintendent of Police (the Appointing Authority) can institute discipline.
  2. The fact that a pre-disciplinary hearing has been held does not mean the FDI (Formal Disciplinary Investigation) is complete.
  3. The recommended discipline has to go up the chain of command. Assuming everyone who has to sign does so after circling “APPROVED,” the case goes to a stack of cases awaiting disciplinary letters.
  4. It is not complete until you receive “cause expressed in writing” as required by the Louisiana Constitution. That “cause expressed in writing” is memorialized in the form of a disciplinary letter. That letter is written on NOPD letterhead and signed by the Superintendent.
  5. There is no telling when you might be issued the disciplinary letter. You will receive a phone call, an email, or some type of notice that you need to report to PIB to sign for the disciplinary letter.
  6. This letter is important for several reasons.
    1. First and foremost, it satisfies the requirements of the Louisiana Constitution.
    2. Secondly, it starts the clock on the 30 days you have to file an appeal as specified in New Orleans Civil Service Commission Rule II, Section 4.3 as quoted above. The date typed on the top of that letter is the date used to start counting the 30 days.
    3. Since you are a good FOP member, if you choose not to appeal, you can send that letter to me for the FOP’s Salary Reimbursement Option.
    4. The letter also says when the suspension starts (assuming suspension time is involved).
  7. Whatever appeal hearing follows is limited to the contents of the disciplinary letter.
  8. FINALLY, THE NOPD DOES NOT PROVIDE ME A COPY OF THE DISCIPLINARY LETTER. YOU, MY OFFICER CLIENT, HAVE TO LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU GET THE DISCIPLINARY LETTER. THIS IS CRUCIAL BECAUSE WHILE I WILL FILE THE APPEAL AND I CAN GET IT FILED THE SAME DAY I RECEIVED THE DISCIPLINARY LETTER, 31 DAYS IS TOO MANY.

Who is entitled to an appeal? New Orleans Civil Service Commission Rule II, Sec. 4.1 reads as follows:

“Regular employees in the classified service shall have the right to appeal disciplinary actions to the Commission, including dismissal, involuntary retirement, demotion, suspension, fine, reduction in pay, or letters of reprimand as defined in Rule I. However, a demotion, reinstatement to a lower classification, transfer, reduction in pay or layoff resulting from the application of the provisions of Rule XII governing layoffs shall not be considered a disciplinary action and thus shall not warrant an appeal except as provided in Sections 4.5 and 9.1 of Rule II. (amended June 10, 1982; May 19, 1988, effective June 1, 1988, amended February 17, 2014, effective March 1, 2014).”

New Orleans Civil Service Commission Rule I, Sec. 1, Paragraph 66 defines “Regular Employee” as:

“an employee who has been appointed to a position in the classified service in accordance with the Law and these Rules and who has completed the working test period.”

That translates to employees who have successfully completed any probationary period.

Have questions? You know what to do.

Happy New Year and some Advice on Disciplinary Investigations

First of all, I hope everyone had an enjoyable Holiday Season. It would be nicer if the Saints played like the offensive masters they are instead of letting the Vikings’ defense dictate the game. That being said, I know there are a lot of officers in New Orleans who were born and grew up in other parts of the country. If you’re not a Saints fan yet, I hope your team is faring better.

On a regular basis, I hear from officers “I didn’t want to bother you with something so minor” or “I know you are super busy, so I didn’t want to waste your time…” So, I want to get it straight.

First and foremost, you should call no matter how stupid or ridiculous the accusations may be.

What if you didn’t call at the beginning of the investigation? That’s ok. Calling is the important part. Got an email from Civil Service about a hearing you have to attend? Call me. I will help you out with that. Got a notice to render a statement? Call me. Got a call (or email if your computers are working) from your rank about scheduling a statement? Call me. Don’t think they can do whatever? Call me,

The fact is that sometimes I can be busy. That is because my practice is all about representing law enforcement officers. If you call and I can’t answer, leave a message or send a text message. You can send documents by texting or emailing photos of the documents.

The FOP’s Legal Defense Plan allows officers to benefit in so many ways that I can make my practice about representing law enforcement officers. It is important to remember that as a member of the FOP Legal Defense Plan, the attorney-client relationship exists between me and the officer. The FOP Legal Defense Plan acts only as the third-party plan administrator on behalf of the Legal Defense Plan. The FOP is not a part of the attorney-client relationship and doesn’t have any decision making authority in how a case is handled.

The FOP’s Legal Defense Plan covers administrative disciplinary investigations (on or off-duty), criminal investigations (on or off-duty – there may be some limitations to off-duty coverage), and defending civil actions related to an on-duty incident (secondary to primary coverage of employer). This legal protection is provided to accused officers or witness officers. In addition, the FOP will provide 2 hours of legal services per year for any legal need (Crescent City Lodge only) and 4 hours of legal services per year for family law issues (Crescent City Lodge only). The FOP also provides free notary services without limitation (Crescent City Lodge only).

The only trick to accessing these amazing legal benefits for law enforcement officers is to be an FOP member and pick up the phone and call or text — simple as that.

Yes. It was offensive pass interference.

Disciplinary Investigations and Off-Duty Conduct

This time of year, it is inevitable that an officer or two get in trouble for off-duty conduct. Sometimes the off-duty conduct leads to significant disciplinary action. The FOP will be there for you, as always, but, generally speaking, it is easy to avoid the off-duty behavior that comes to the attention of the Public Integrity Bureau, or Internal Affairs as the case may be.

The vast majority of discipline related to off-duty conduct is related to sex or the use of alcohol.

As police officers, you see it every single day. People who have been drinking make poor decisions. I’m just going to go ahead and say the obvious – Police Officers who have been drinking make poor decisions too. You may be able to get some professional courtesy on a regular traffic stop (and you might not – some officers are real nervous with a BWC and an ICC recording their every word and move), but if you are involved in an accident, the officer may not have any choice but to take action. A close relative of mine was stopped by an officer who used to be one of my subordinates. We did not have a contentious relationship and I helped him out quite a bit. I was surprised to learn that particular officer had arrested someone he knew to be a close relative of mine when he could have just as easily given him a ride home. My relative had not been involved in an accident or anything like that, it was a simple traffic stop. The point is that today’s political atmosphere makes it less likely that officers exercise any type of discretion.

It’s not just driving either. Alcohol can make it seem like a good idea to start an argument with the guy sitting on the barstool next to his. Alcohol can make it seem like a good idea to start a fight with an ex-husband. Did you know it is legal for an officer to carry a concealed firearm in an alcoholic beverage outlet? La. R.S. 14:95.5 allows it, as does the federal laws known as LEOSA. If, however, you think it is a good idea to carry a concealed weapon in a barroom, I would have to ask you if you are drinking while reading this. Just don’t do it. Just FYI, you are not covered by LEOSA if you are intoxicated. Also, for the New Orleans Police Department, Rule 3, Professional Conduct, Paragraph 9, Use of Alcohol/Drugs Off Duty, says that commissioned personnel are forbidden from carrying firearms in an ABO, while consuming alcohol, or while intoxicated. Part of that rule may still violate LEOSA, but La. R.S. 14:95.5 allows the Superintendent to make it a violation of Department rules to carry a firearm in an ABO.

Sex is the next source of off-duty disciplinary action. It is not a good idea to hook up with people you meet on calls for service. It does not matter if they are the complainant or the subject of the complaint.

If you come across someone who looks like they could use a ride home, make sure it is to their home and not yours. Make sure the dispatcher knows about it and that all of the transport mileages are recorded. Finally, make sure all of the recording devices you carry around these days are activated.

There are also police officers involved in abusive relationships. Now, I understand this is not as simple as just saying “don’t do it.” I would, however, like to encourage any officer involved in an abusive relationship to seek help. At the New Orleans Police Department, Cecile Tebo is available at no cost through the Office Assistance Program to help however she can. No matter where you are or what department you work for, there is help available somewhere. Take advantage of that help before you lose your job over it.

The standard, as is always the case, is that the alleged infraction must bear a real and substantial relationship to the efficient operation of the public service. The Courts in Louisiana have applied that rule fairly liberally. That means that if your Department believes there is a real and substantial relationship between the alleged dereliction and the efficient operation of the public service, the Courts are likely to go along with that.

As we are recently reminded by the Louisiana Supreme Court, neither the Commission nor a reviewing court should “second-guess” an appointing authority’s decisions. See Lange v. Orleans Levee District, 10–0140, p. 17 (La.11/30/10), 56 So.3d 925, 936. The Commission and a reviewing court may intervene only when the appointing authority’s decisions are arbitrary and capricious or characterized by an abuse of discretion. Id. Moreover, neither the Commission nor the reviewing court may serve as a de facto pardon board. Id. “[S]ympathy is not a legal standard.” Id.

Chinh Nguyen v. Dep’t of Police, 2011-0570 (La. App. 4 Cir. 8/31/11), 72 So. 3d 939, 944.
I hope everyone has had an enjoyable Holiday Season and that none of this advice is necessary. If it becomes necessary, call me.

Millage Lawsuit Payments 1980-1994

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Click here for information on the distribution of funds resulting from the FOP’s millage lawsuit covering the period 1980-1994. There will be an additional distribution covering later years.

http://nopdmillage.com/

Hurricane Barry Payroll

Recently, Mayor Cantrell declared a state of emergency due to Hurricane Barry in the Gulf of Mexico. The Fraternal Order of Police (We) received numerous phone calls from officers concerned that the city would pay them correctly. I spoke with the police administration several times and Asst. Superintendent Noel assured me that Superintendent Ferguson was committed to making sure NOPD paid everyone correctly. An email to NOPDAll indicating that there could be a delay in when NOPD would be making payments for the declared state of emergency got officers worried again.

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Tropical Storm Barry and the FLSA

UPDATE 3 (8/1/19) There is still some discussion of pay for time worked during the State of Emergency for Hurricane Barry. Here is my best interpretation of the circumstances as they exist today:

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VERY IMPORTANT – 1st Amendment Update

UPDATE (8/1/19) – I started off with warnings not to share your political ideas on Facebook or the like. My recommendation has changed. Do not post anything on Facebook, Twitter, or the like. There are no privacy settings that will protect you. Sometimes it takes it hitting home to really make the message clear. 2 Gretna Police Department officers fired for one Facebook post. However, these days, hitting home does not mean it only hits home. The story of the 2 Gretna officers fired for Facebook posts can also be found in the New York Times. One of the Gretna officers wrote a post. The other officer merely clicked “Like” on the post. Play around with the search bar on Facebook. It is much more powerful than you might imagine. Search Google for tips and tricks for the Facebook search bar.

Just don’t do it. If you want to share pictures of your newborn child with your relatives spread across the country, go ahead – use Facebook – you can’t beat it. However, if you have a joke, a meme, or anything like that, keep it to yourself. When is the last time you tried to convey humor or sarcasm in a text message and it failed completely? It is very difficult to convey emotion or feeling. The same is true with Facebook. To make matters worse, there are those who don’t understand that articles in The Onion are satire, or what satire is. There are people who really believe that the United States Postal Service would create a  commercial to brag about the number of fingers shipped by kidnappers. They are quite comical. You will find at least some of them amazing and amusing. However, what you wrote as a police officer can and will get you fired. Hitting a “Like” button is reported in the New York Times.

We post the FOP newsletter in the Crescent City Lodge Facebook Group. Anything wrong with reading that there? No. You probably cannot post in the Crescent City Lodge Facebook Group at all — well, not without approval. Why? It is for your own protection. There is no such thing as privacy on the Internet and nothing goes away. There are some things that are completely beyond your control. This is not one of those things. Educate yourself and protect yourself – click here.

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Do you want to be in the movies?

I received an email from Central Casting Louisiana. The test of the email is below. Anyone who is interested (and available) can email Hunt@CentralCasting.com.

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A look back at 2018

For the last few years, I have tried to give a short tally of my FOP Legal Defense Plan activities. I think where I have fallen short in the past is that my short tallies haven’t been very short. So, this time is going to be different.

If you are in law enforcement, you should be in the FOP Legal Defense Plan. If you work for NOPD, that means you should be a member of Crescent City Lodge #2. If you work for another agency, then you should belong to your local lodge. If you don’t have a local lodge, you might be able to join Lodge 100 or another lodge in your area. You may also be able to start a new lodge. The point is that in 2019, the FOP Legal Plan is as important to a law enforcement officer as what tools are on his duty belt. Police officers should never go to work without wearing a bullet proof vest. Likewise, police officers should never go to work without the FOP’s Legal Defense Plan protecting them also.

In New Orleans, I believe things related to disciplinary investigations have begun to level off. I think the total number of DI-1 investigations or formal disciplinary investigations is probably close to the total for 2017. My stats are pretty close to 2017 also.

413

413 is the number of individual law enforcement officers I provided some type of legal service. Most of those 413 law enforcement officers were active members of the New Orleans Police Department. Some, however, were from other departments in southeast Louisiana. A few of those 413 law enforcement officers were retirees. Most were administrative disciplinary actions. Some were criminal investigations. Some were civil issues, workers compensation issues, issues with pay, or other issues associated with their employment.

248

I accompanied officers to 248 interviews in connection with formal disciplinary investigations. This includes statements at NOPD PIB, district stations, and at other agencies.

98

I attended 98 disciplinary hearings with FOP members. This includes Commander’s hearings, Bureau Chief hearings, Pre-Disposition Conferences, and any other hearings that resulted from a sustained charge in a disciplinary investigation.

110

I have 110 New Orleans Civil Service extension request hearings in my records. That is almost certainly very low. Sometimes it is better to lay low at extension hearings.

25

I accompanied 25 FOP members to an Accident Review Board hearing.

14

I represented FOP members in 14 Civil Service appeal hearings.

.500

In 2018, the Civil Service Commission released 6 decisions in cases I took to a hearing before the hearing officer. In 3 of those decisions, the Civil Service Commission granted the appeal, at least in part. In addition, at least 7 appeals were settled before the hearing. 2018 also included a decision in the protests of 3 police sergeants which I would consider a win. Counting that, my average would go up to .667. In 2017, there were 10 decisions in cases I took to hearing before the hearing officer. In 6 of those 10 cases, the appeal was granted, at least in-part. I recall when I first started handling these types of cases, the Louisiana State Civil Service used to keep detailed records on appeals. 8% of employees were successful in their appeals. I am confident my 50% – 60% win percentage is much better than average. Published Civil Service decisions can be found here.

75

I was able to notarize 75 documents for FOP members over the course of 2018.

18

The FOP provides each one of its members 2 hours of legal services for whatever the FOP member may need. I was able to do that for FOP members on 18 occasions in 2018. Sometimes that means drawing up and executing a Last Will and Testament or a Living Will. Sometimes those two hours are put toward something else, like a succession. One way or another, I try to get as much done within the 2 hours as possible.

So, that’s my review of 2018. I will leave everyone with one story from early 2019 before I hit publish.

Very early in 2019, I got a call from an officer about an officer involved shooting. The officer who called said that he wasn’t involved, but two other officers were and he gave me the location. I started in the direction of the scene and I was notified that there were three officers involved. Eventually that turned into four officers and one officer was in the hospital. The officer at the hospital was not injured badly thanks to his body armor which functioned as expected. Once I was on the scene and had spoken to the third officer, i learned that there were a total of 5 officers involved.

Now, this incident is not going to turn into any major production. It is a pretty straight-forward officer involved shooting and it was recorded from start to finish on four different cameras in high-definition. However, had it been a more controversial OIS, I am sure you could imagine what the legal costs would have been for five (5) officers. Fortunately, these officers all would have been protected by the FOP Legal Defense Plan if they would have really needed it.

It turns out the 5th officer on the scene of this OIS had recently graduated from the Academy and was in field training. I walked over to talk to him with a member of the FIT team. The FIT sergeant introduced himself and then went to introduce me and the officer in training said “Let me guess – my FOP attorney.” Sure enough. After we talked about public safety statements and what to expect, I asked this officer if he had my phone number. He kind of laughed to himself and said that I had been in his class recently at the Academy recently and I had told everyone to keep my number. He related to me that he had sat there thinking that he would never need it and did not put my number in his phone.

Put mt number in your phone. Who knows when you will need it? You can use it whenever you want. It might be something stupid. It might be something critical. It doesn’t matter to me or the FOP.