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Louisiana Board of Ethics ex rel. Dumas

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

November 16, 2017

LOUISIANA BOARD OF ETHICS In the Matter of WALTER C. DUMAS AND WALTER C. DUMAS & ASSOCIATES, INC.

         On Appeal from the State of Louisiana, Division of Administrative Law, Ethics Adjudicatory Board, Docket No. 2010-12744-ETHICS-B Charles Perrault, Karla Coreil, and Romaine White Administrative Law Judges Presiding

          Travis J. Turner Gonzales, Louisiana and Ta-Tanisha T. Youngblood Baton Rouge, Louisiana Attorneys for Appellants, Walter C. Dumas and Walter C. Dumas & Associates, Inc.

          Tracy M. Barker Kathleen M. Allen Baton Rouge, Louisiana Attorneys for Appellee, The Louisiana Board of Ethics

          BEFORE: GUIDRY, PETTIGREW, AND CRAIN, JJ.

          CRAIN, J.

         Walter C. Dumas and Walter C. Dumas & Associates, Inc., appeal a decision of the Louisiana Ethics Adjudicatory Board (Adjudicatory Board) finding they violated the Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics (Ethics Code) and ordering them to pay $138, 000.00 to the Louisiana Board of Ethics (Ethics Board). We affirm.

         FACTS

         Southern University is a public university managed by its Board of Supervisors (Board of Supervisors). See La. Const, art. 8, §7. The Southern University System Foundation (Foundation) is a non-profit corporation established to support and promote Southern University and is a party to multiple contracts with the university. In an effort to generate revenue for Southern University's athletic department, the Foundation and Southern University entered a contract authorizing the Foundation to sublease suites at A.W. Mumford Stadium for Southern University's home football games and other athletic events. The Foundation then subleased the suites through a bidding process.

         Pursuant to the stadium contract, from 2001 through 2009 the Foundation subleased 50-yard-line stadium suites to Walter Dumas and Associates, Inc., a law firm owned solely by Dumas and in which he was its senior attorney. In April 2006, Dumas became a member of the Board of Directors of the Foundation, and in January 2009, he was appointed to the Board of Supervisors.

         Rental payments were made through 2005, then Dumas and the law firm made no payments during the 2006, 2007, and 2008 football seasons. The terms of the sublease covered those seasons beginning July 1, 2007, and ending June 30, 2009, and required a yearly rental payment of $13, 800.00, plus a $96, 600.00 donation to the Foundation, payable over three years. Dumas alleged that in 2006, for the millions of dollars in donations to the university for which Dumas was responsible, Dr. Ralph Slaughter, the then president of Southern University, advised Dumas that he did not have to make the remaining payments under the sublease.

         In March 2009, as a member of the Board of Supervisors, Dumas voted to terminate Dr. Slaughter. In April 2009, Dr. Slaughter notified the Foundation that the amounts owed under Dumas' sublease were due and not paid. In June 2009, an invoice was sent to Dumas and the law firm demanding payment of $138, 000.00 for the suite. The dispute was resolved in August 2009, when the Foundation voted to forgive any debt for suite rentals owed by Dumas or his law firm for 2006, 2007, and 2008.

         These events were disclosed to the Ethics Board by a confidential source. In December 2010, charges were filed alleging violations of the Ethics Code: (1) against Dumas, for accepting forgiveness of a debt owed by the law firm to the Foundation, while Dumas was a member of the Board of Supervisors; and (2) against Dumas and the law firm, because by subleasing a stadium suite, the law firm had an interest in the stadium contract between Southern University and the Foundation, while Dumas, the law firm's sole owner, was a member of the Board of Supervisors. After a public hearing, the Adjudicatory Board affirmed the charges and ordered Dumas and the law firm to pay $138, 000.00 to the Ethics Board as recovery of an improper economic advantage gained by using the stadium suite for three years without payment.

         Dumas and the law firm appeal, urging nineteen assignments of error:[1]

1) It was error . . . [for] the [Adjudicatory Board] to conclude Appellants fell under the definition of a public employee when the charges as set forth by the [Ethics Board] occurred;
2) It was error . . . [for] the . . . Adjudicatory Board to conclude Appellant, Walter C. Dumas, during the years 2006, 2007, and 2008 was a public servant within the meaning of the [Ethics] Code;
3) It was error . . . [for] the . . . Adjudicatory Board denied [sic] Appellants, Walter C. Dumas & Associates, Inc., and Walter C. Dumas', Motion to Dismiss;
4) It was error . . . [for] the . . . Adjudicatory Board to dismiss Appellants' Motion for Summary Judgment;
5) It was error . . . [for] the . . . Adjudicatory Board to conclude there was a contract for a football suite between the Foundation and Walter C. Dumas & Associates, Inc., on August 20, 2009;
6) It was error . . . [for] the . . . Adjudicatory Board to conclude the action of Foundation board, former President of the Southern University System Dr. Slaughter did not tacitly or by action ratified [sic] the use of the football suite by Appellants for the years 2006, 2007, and 2008 without paying the rental charges;
7) It was error . . . [for] the . . . Adjudicatory Board to conclude that Appellants who were not subject to the Louisiana Ethics Code until January 9, 2009, received as an economic value for using the football suite for the years 2006, 2007, and 2008 without having to pay for the suite [sic];
8) It was error . . . [for] the . . . Adjudicatory Board to conclude Appellant, Walter C. Dumas & Associates, Inc., received a thing of economic value when Appellant did not have a contractual and financial relationship with Southern University System Foundation;
9) It was error . . . [for] the . . . Adjudicatory Board to conclude Appellants receiving [sic] a thing of economic value when respondent had a contractual and financial relationship with Southern University System Foundation;
10) It was error . . . [for] the ... . Adjudicatory Board to conclude that on August 20, 2009, there was a contract between the Foundation and Southern University in which Appellant, Walter C. Dumas, had an economic interest;
11) It was error . . . [for] the ... . Adjudicatory Board to conclude as a matter of law, that Appellants, Walter C. Dumas and Associates, Inc., and Walter C. Dumas, received a thing of value and/or was interested in a contract between the period of January 9, 2009 to June 30, 2009;
12) It was error . . . [for] the . . . Adjudicatory Board to conclude that a legal entity, Walter C. Dumas & Associates, Inc. owned by Walter C. Dumas had a contract for a football suite with the Southern University Foundation between January 9, 2009, to June 30, 2009;
13) It was error . . . [for] the . . . Adjudicatory Board not to apply [Louisiana Revised Statute] 42:1113B and [Louisiana Revised Statute] 42:1115 A as adopted and passed by the legislature;
14) It was error . . . [for] the . . . Adjudicatory Board to conclude as a matter of law, Walter C. Dumas & Associates, Inc., violated the [Ethics Code];
15) It was error . . . [for] the . . . Adjudicatory Board to conclude as a matter of law, Walter C. Dumas ...

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