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Landry going two for three helps Louisianans

As opposed to this week, Louisiana Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry had a good last week, with his office winning two cases that protect Louisianans.

Firstly, on behalf of the state Landry prevailed with a challenge to a law forbidding people aged 18 through 20 to dance nearly nude in places licensed to serve booze. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier originally had struck down the law in 2017, which lawmakers had passed to protect younger individuals from sex trafficking. Field research noted that stripping put them at elevated risk to this hazard.

Barbier ruled essentially that the state’s simple changes in law (to passages concerning outlets serving regular content alcoholic beverages, and the same wording in the section detailing service of low-content booze) were “overbroad,” or that the incidental restriction on alleged First Amendment freedoms be no greater than is essential to the furtherance of that interest. In particular, he noted spillover effects to other venues of expression, and recommended small changes to the law to eliminate what he saw as a problem.

However, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, first through a three-member panel and then its entire membership assenting to that panel’s decision, thought Barbier had given insufficient weight to official statements from administrators and legislative intent that the limit would apply only to establishments with alcoholic beverage permits. It concluded that, while officials come and go as Barbier noted, jurisprudence pointed to deference to the state in these matters and that future courts would have access to this intent if any attempt came about to apply the law elsewhere.

On other parts of the case, it agreed with the district court: the state had proven its solution – raising the age limit – related to a matter of some concern that government had the power to address. And under-21 dancers, if they wished to express themselves through near-nudity (Louisiana law prohibits entire nudity), they had the option of performing in clubs that didn’t serve alcohol.

Also, Landry notched a win when the state’s First Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a decision that would have let the firm that employed Larry Bankston sue him for not allowing Bankston’s hiring to serve as a local government’s counsel. Landry would not sign off on the deal, required under state law, hinting that Bankston’s checkered past that included a felony conviction and past disbarment should disqualify him from this position of trust. The Court dismissed the claim in stating no controversy existed as under state law Bankston could not sue Landry for the performance of this duty.

Upholding the age limit can reduce the crime of trafficking, which benefits all citizens, but particularly those who could become victims. And with dismissal of Bankston’s claim, Landry’s rejection of his employment sends the proper message that elected officials – Bankston served as a state senator when he committed his crimes – should not expect even after making their penance to regain the privilege of wielding public authority, which may make them think twice about acting corruptly.

However, Landry didn’t do so well by taxpayers this week when state district judge William Morvant ruled his office had to fork over $25,000 in legal fees because he didn’t respond quickly enough to a nuisance public records request. Although the judge sympathized with Landry, noting that “To say this was a rather broad and almost overly burdensome request would be an understatement,” while declining to impose civil penalties he did put taxpayers on the hook for attorney costs.

Unfortunately, Landry’s office didn’t invoke R.S. 44:33 upon receiving the request, which allows government to defer when “segregating the record would be unreasonably burdensome or expensive … the official shall so state in writing and shall state the location of the requested record,” as perhaps Morvant or higher courts would have agreed. Otherwise, Landry might have batted 1.000 on big cases in early 2019.

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