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New Ethics Board, but continuing confused attitudes

It seems you can change the players but you can’t change the mentality when it comes to Louisiana’s Board of Ethics.

At its May meeting, several board members queried the chairman of the House’s Government and Administration Committee state Rep. Rick Gallot about the possibility of going back to something like the system in place until the end of last year which made the Board the prosecutor, judge, and jury of alleged ethics violations. The new system allows the Board to levy charges, and then professionals adjudicate the case from there.

All of the members of the Board save one were appointed in the last few months. This is because in part many previous members thought the changes stripped them of power and prestige and so they lost interest in service and quit it, coupled with the fact the burden to serve increased with more stringent financial disclosure laws also applying to the Board.

You would have thought the new members would bring a new attitude congruent to these changes, but the comments from its Chairman Frank Simoneaux and Vice Chairman Scott Frazier makes one wonder about that, comprising a confusing rehash of old, inadequate arguments. Simoneaux claimed that the new system might not work well because it featured “two boards in one unitary ethics system” and implied its members, having taken office prior to the changes, were not prepared for such a thing, and Frazier said the new system could be inconsistent and thought there would be a lack of expertise in the adjudication process.

Clearly, these officials are unfamiliar with the whole debate around the issue last year and as well what many other states do (and thereby obviously have not read the commentary in this space), which is unfortunate and derelict since they are the top officers of the Board. Let’s go through it again, beginning with Simoneaux’s comments.

It’s a strange argument to assert the board members were getting procedures switched on them in a confusing way. Almost all of the old board resigned by the middle of last summer so the appointments were made in the fall, technically a couple of months prior to the new procedures coming into effect. But the board didn’t do anything under the old rules, and any incoming member who did not know about the new procedures was negligent given they were known to be on the horizon.

Also weird from the comments is the contention of “two boards.” The new system largely replicates the typical civil and criminal system that features (for all non-trivial accusations) a grand jury comprised of non-expert citizens which fields requests for indictments by prosecuting authorities, and decides whether the accusations merit a trial. Professionals perform the remainder of the process in most cases, with a jury trial of (different) non-expert citizens only occasionally making the final decision of innocence or guilt.

Under the new system, the Board acts as the grand jury. Administrative law judges, who are selected impartially on a case-by-case basis and are required to have considerable legal experience, conduct the trials and make judicial decisions. Simoneux should know that and where there is a board in addition to the Ethics Board itself is a mystery to which perhaps only he knows the answer.

Frazier also needs to review the information about the process. It is as much mystery how he can think the political appointees from mostly non-legal backgrounds to the Board are going to have more expertise in this area of law than law judges with law degrees and experience who will be required to study this area of the law. If anything, the increased professionalism will lead to greater consistency.

The fact is, the new system is considered best practice and a number of states use a similar one for their ethics adjudication. There’s no reason to reverse a process which barely has begun and that the newcomers suggest as such is not only curious, but indicative that they have a ways to go in understanding what they actually need to be doing and the right spirit in which to do it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Where did you get your law degree?