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21.12.09

Suggested changes needed to ethics law adjudication

In cooperation with Louisiana’s Board of Ethics, the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration has come up with some changes to ethics law adjudication that deserve legal enactment, despite what one key legislator thinks.

The most significant change involves allowing the Board to appeal decisions. The present procedure has the Board acting as prosecutor and bringing cases to administrative law judges for adjudication, but then the Board legally must approve all decisions made by the law panel to which there is no appeal. Jindal and many on the Board both want to change this so that the Board can appeal a panel decision into the appellate court system and not just rubber-stamp everything.

This makes sense. As the Board acts like a prosecutor as well as grand jury, as a prosecutor it should have an appeal option. This clears up the legal ambiguity that forces it currently to sign off on all decisions, even those with which it disagrees. Also, this can clarify uncertainties of the law by having a court invested with judicial power provide a single legal interpretation of ethics statutes.

While unrelated to current desired changes, these would address another area of controversy that came in the legislation that created this system, of a higher standard of proof being needed than before for conviction. Those who favored the new, higher standard said since some of the penalties were severe it should apply, but those supporting the old, lower standard said these were civil matters under administrative law courts which should not appropriately be deciding under the higher standard. The effect of these changes would be to support the higher standard because now all cases had the possibility of going into the regular court system that deals with that burden of proof consistently.

However, state Rep. Rick Gallot who leads the House and Governmental Affairs Committee that deals with these matters, expressed opposition to the changes, saying adding an appeals process would lengthen the process and expenses for defendants. He charged it was a case of sour grapes for the Board, which has lost some cases in front of the panels.

What he neglected to add is that this procedure could cause him some personal ethics problems. Gallot was the beneficiary of a legal ambiguity in terms of statute of limitations because of the changes wrought by the previous reforms. It’s likely that if an appeals process of the kind envisioned existed, the First Circuit would rule in favor of the Board that Gallot still could be prosecuted for alleged violations concerning his work with a university foundation.

But what’s one puny legislator compared to the might of the governor? If Jindal is serious about this, Gallot nor anybody else will be able to resist these welcome changes from coming to fruition during the next legislative session.

1 comment:

James S said...

The original prohibition against Ethics Board appeal rights and the higher standard of proof in these adminstrative cases were both the work of buffoons. Gallot in particular leads that pack and should be canned for his blatant dishonesty.