Former LSP Lt. John Stelly responds to LSP’s assertion that WBRZ’s disciplinary features on Major Robert Burns are “false and have been rebutted.”

WBRZ screen shot of a feature the station ran on July 19, 2017 entailing then-Captain Robert Burns [now Major (no relation to Sound Off Louisiana’s Burns)] and his 64-hour suspension for running improper searches for non-law enforcement purposes.

When we presented our last feature updating the status of former LSP Lt. John Stelly and his reverse discrimination lawsuit against LSP, we provided an absolute plethora of court filings in the case and provided a brief synopsis of those filings in the video accompanying that feature.

One of those filings was LSP’s Reply Brief to Stelly’s Opposition Memorandum on LSP’s Motion for Summary Judgment.  We are going to be honest:  our jaws just about hit the floor when we read the bottom of page four (4) of that reply brief and the top of page five (5) of that reply brief.  The material that caused our jaws to literally about drop to the floor follows:

Plaintiff’s claims about Burns’ discipline are false and have been rebutted. Because the stories about Burns’ conduct were false, Burns was able to secure a verdict against the news agency that ran the misleading story about him.”

For those familiar with Burns’ actions and all that transpired in that timeframe, we’re sure those folks’ jaws are dropping as well.

For those who are unfamiliar, let’s take a stroll down memory lane.  The best way to do that is to begin with this July 19, 2017 WBRZ (Channel 2 in Baton Rouge) feature on Burns’ 64-hour suspension.  Here’s the video for it:

7/19/17:  WBRZ feature on Burns’ discipline.

Less than 30 days after the airing of the above feature, Burns, utilizing what has to be an utterly desperate-for-business attorney (unless there’s another explanation for filing a suit which should be dead upon filing), Wyman Bankston, filed this “defamation” lawsuit against WBRZ on August 14, 2017.

Only WBRZ and its management and owners can explain why they ignored the lawsuit (which would seem nothing short of stupid on anyone’s part), but they did.  WBRZ’s total inaction on the matter caused Burns to obtain a $1.5 million default judgment (confirmed in Chambers) against WBRZ along with his wife, Hilary Burns, obtaining a $1 million judgment as well dated September 28, 2017.

Obviously, those default judgments awakened the asleep-at-the-wheels management and owners at WBRZ, and they ended up filing this Motion for a New Trial on October 12, 2017, with WBRZ following up with a Motion for Summary Judgment, which the trial court incredibly denied.  WBRZ appealed to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, and that appeal ultimately resulted in the First Circuit issuing this granting of WBRZ’s writ on September 23, 2019 which reversed the trial court’s denial of WBRZ’s Motion for Summary Judgment.  From that ruling:

The February 19, 2019, ruling of the trial court denying defendants Louisiana Television Broadcasting, LLC d/b/a WBRZ TV Channel 2 and its reporter, Christopher Nakamoto’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff Robert Arthur Burns, II claim for defamation is reversed and the motion for summary judgment is granted dismissing plaintiffs’ claims against defendants.  In order to prevail on a defamation claim, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant, with actual malice or other fault, published a false statement with defamatory words which caused plaintiff damages. Costello v. Hardy, 2003-1146 La. 1/21/2004), 864 So. 2d 129, 139. If even one of the required elements of the tort is lacking, the cause of action fails. Id. In this matter, defendants have pointed out the absence of factual support for one or more elements essential to plaintiffs’ claims, i.e., false statements and actual malice or other fault in publishing the conclusions of a state agency and Goyeneche’s statement of opinion concerning same.  Plaintiffs, then, did not produce factual support sufficient to establish the existence of a genuine issue of material fact.

We want to emphasize just how rare such a ruling as the above is.  Now, whenever a case is dismissed with prejudice after the granting of a Motion for Summary Judgment, it is quite common for an appeal to succeed with the appeals court deeming it appropriate to continue with proceedings in finding that there are indeed issues of material fact.

On the other hand, as in this instance, appeals courts are more than a little hesitant to reverse a trial court’s denial of a Motion for Summary Judgment.  The logic is that plaintiffs are typically entitled to have their days in court and, if the lower court saw it that way, that should be the way it ought to be.  Further, the logic also extends that the worst that can possibly happen is that the matter merely proceeds forward, and the appeals court justices can sleep peacefully at night knowing that they did not improperly deny a plaintiff his day in Court.

Notice that is not what the First Circuit did here!  They ruled that the case was actually not worthy of being allowed to proceed forward because there were no issues of material fact to be tried by the trial court!

So, how’s that for a contrast, huh?  The First Circuit says that there are no issues of material fact and that WBRZ is entitled to a ruling in its favor as a matter of law, yet LSP, acting through Assistant Attorney General Emily Ross (who touts her magna cum laude accomplishment at Tulane’s law school graduation class of 2012) would (perhaps solely shooting from the hip, giving her the best benefit of the doubt we possibly can) characterize the whole matter as, “false and rebutted.”

WOW!  That’s about all we can say is “Wow!”  About the only thing we can assess as being “false” is the outrageous claim that WBRZ engaged in any act of defamation!

Now, make no mistake, WBRZ certainly deserves to be faulted for ignoring the lawsuit!  A far better path would have been to have retained an attorney specializing in defending against such litigation such as Ben Mayeux or Amy Groves-Lowe.  As we’ve pointed out before in other features, Billy Broussard, representing himself, referenced both these attorneys as he, “provided ‘remedial training’ to attorney Eric Haik.”

Broussard, relying upon his dedicated following of the Sound Off Louisiana blog, specifically referenced Groves-Lowe and her obtaining $9,700 in legal fees against Murphy Painter together with  Mayeux’s obtaining $50,000+ in legal fees against former State Police Commissioner Calvin Braxton  by way of each of them filing to recover such legal fees via LA Code of Civil Procedure Article 971.

Broussard even went so far as to reference Haik’s seeking of Article 863 Sanctions against him as “utterly laughable.” As part of Broussard’s filing, perhaps he got arguably a tad cocky in going so far as to provide the telephone numbers and email addresses of Groves-Lowe and Mayeux.  From that feature:

Perhaps if ever sued for defamation again, Defendants may contact Ben Mayeux (337-272-0346) or [email protected]) or Arny Groves-Lowe
(225-381-0280 or [email protected]). Further, had Defendants followed Sound Off Louisiana as Plaintiff had, they would have seen the success of these two attorneys in procuring attorney ‘s fees the proper way through a filing of a Motion to Strike pursuant to Louisiana CCP Article 971 rather than throwing out an absurd “suggestion” to this Court that it “consider” awarding attorney’s fees without even attempting to properly posture such a request for attorney’s fees to this Court.

Therefore, it would seem that, had WBRZ filed a Special Motion to Strike pursuant to LA CCP Article 971 , not only would their own matter have been dismissed in short order, but they could have recovered attorney fees from Burns pursuant to that Code Article.  Oh, well.  Live and learn we guess.

Importantly, however, is the fact that, had WBRZ acted in a more logical manner in at least providing some response to Burns’ lawsuit rather than just ignoring it, WBRZ would have thereby precluded the utterly laughable assertion made by LSP in its Reply Memorandum to Stelly’s Opposition Memorandum to LSP’s Motion for Summary Judgment!

At any rate, on October 14, 2022, WBRZ published this feature openly questioning the judgment of then-Col. Lamar Davis in naming Burns the head of Compliance.  Here’s that video:

 10/14/22:  WBRZ feature on Burns.

Fourteen (14) days later, WBRZ followed up that feature with this direct interview with then-Col. Lamar Davis seeking for Davis to explain his rationale for naming Burns as Head of Compliance.  Here’s that video:

 10/28/22:  WBRZ follow-up feature on Burns.

Although, in the WBRZ clip of October 14, 2022, LSP stresses that Burns got “no promotion” in being placed in charge of Compliance, LSP did subsequently promote Burns to Major.  It was Burns’ prior promotion to Captain which is one of the times Stelly asserts that he was discriminated against in being a white male (Burns identifies as Asian).

Well, it turns out that we apparently weren’t the only ones whose jaws dropped to the floor when LSP, acting through Ross, filed its Reply Brief on Stelly’s Opposition Memorandum!

Why do we say that?  Mainly because, on Wednesday, July 3, 2024, Stelly’s attorney, Victor Farrugia, filed this Motion for Leave to file a Sur-reply to LSP’s Reply Brief Motion.  Once Judge Greg Guidry Granted the Motion on Friday, July 5, 2024, Farrugia then filed this response to LSP’s Reply Brief.  From that response:

Moreover, Plaintiff’s claims about Burns’ discipline are false and have been rebutted. Because the stories about Burns’ conduct were false, Burns was able to secure a verdict against the news agency that ran the misleading story about him.” Reply Brief, p. 5. This is absolutely incorrect. Stelly has evidence of Burns’ serious disciplinary action and Stelly has evidence that Burns’ disciplinary record that is far inferior to Stelly’s record.

Stelly’s information about Burns’ disciplinary issues was based solely on LSP’s letter of discipline to Burns, not a news agency story. Stelly is unaware of the particular news story to which Burns referred, the content of that news story, and the verdict against the news agency that reported it.

LSP provided the letter of discipline. LSP provided nothing indicating that the discipline was later overturned or vacated. The disciplinary letter said that Burns admitted to many of the violations served as the basis for the comparison of their disciplinary histories. Burns on pages 60 and 61 of his deposition admitted to 51 violations.
Q Okay, but isn’t it true that of these
52 allegations, you admitted to 51 of them?
A I — I admitted to — yes, sir. I admitted to running my own license plate, not running my ex-wife’s driver’s license, is what I admitted to.
Burns further admitted on page 64 of his deposition:
“She never took it out of my name, so
there was a multitude of reasons there for —
for me to just check my own plate. And again,
I know I shouldn’t have done it. I admitted
it to internal affairs.”
Burns further admitted on page 64 and 65 of his deposition to asking his wife to conceal his illegal activity.
Q And did you ask your ex-wife to conceal you having given her that information?
A I don’t recall that, that information. You know, I did it. It was a — it was a bad time in my life with the divorce and the children’s custody, and there were several things involved in that that obviously I’m not proud of.
Stelly accurately stated that he was much more qualified than Burns in disciplinary record. Burns admitted that in his deposition.
Q So going back to the summary report, you agree that — that Lieutenant Stelly was much more qualified for this position, with regards to disciplinary actions than you were?
A Yes, sir, I would say his disciplinary action category is — is much more favorable than mine; yes, sir.

Burns’ disciplinary record made him much less qualified for the promotion than Stelly. It is reasonable to conclude, and the jury may well conclude that someone who knowingly violated policies, was admittedly aware of the potentially terminal consequences of those violations, and conspired to hide those violations made poor decision wooiuld (sic) be less qualified to be promoted to captain than someone without such a history, like Stelly.

In our opinion, the blatantly misleading (and we do mean blatantly) filing which Ross submitted to the Judge overseeing this case, particularly when she either knew, or certainly should have known through the conducting of even a cursory glance at Google results, that her filing was false and misleading alone should suffice for defeating LSP’s Motion for Summary Judgment.  We deem it to be that egregious!  That’s one of the reasons Burns (the blogger, not the trooper) stated on the video of the preceding feature first linked at the outset of this feature that he, “didn’t see the granting of LSP’s Motion for Summary Judgment.”

Just a few concluding “housekeeping” notes.  First, due to a Court conflict, the mandatory settlement conference scheduled for Wednesday, July 24, 2024 at 2 p.m. has  been moved up to Monday, July 22, 2024 at 9:00 a.m.  The Stelly demand deadline remains 10 days before the conference, or Friday, July 12, 2024, as does the mandatory response from LSP of seven (7) days, or Monday, July 15, 2024.

Finally, a few folk have asked us if there is any update on the Ronald Greene criminal trial entailing filings.  We figured common sense dictated there was not; however, just to be safe, we took out a one-day pass on the Union Parish Clerk of Court system last week.  As we expected, absolutely nothing has been filed in that case aside from Kory York’s request of the Court to take a church retreat trip to Arkansas later this month for a week or so.  Since that is a trip out-of-state, Court approval was required, and York’s attorney, J. Michael Small, submitted the request, which the Court granted.

At a minimum, we hope this little stroll down memory lane helps provide some clarity of exactly just what all transpired regarding Burns and his disciplinary record, and we we hope that’s particularly the case for Ms. Ross!

2 thoughts on “Former LSP Lt. John Stelly responds to LSP’s assertion that WBRZ’s disciplinary features on Major Robert Burns are “false and have been rebutted.””

  1. “LSP did subsequently promote Burns to Major, which is one of the times Stelly asserts he was discriminated against in being a white male (Burns identifies as Asian).”

    This part of your story doesn’t make sense. Stelly was a lieutenant, how could he be competing for major without ever making Captain?

    1. Thank you for catching that! I have made the correction to reflect the fact that it was Burns’ prior promotion to Captain that Stelly asserts that he was discriminated against! Again, thank you for catching that!

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