June 22, 2011
Marla F. Cooper
112 Gille Lane
Buras, LA 70091
28028 Highway 23
Suites 115 and 116
Port Sulphur, LA 70083
RE: Board Docket No. 2011-998
Dear Ms. Cooper and Mr. Edgecombe:
The Louisiana Board of Ethics, at its June 17, 2011 meeting, considered your request for an advisory opinion regarding whether Marla Cooper and Jeff Edgecombe, members of the Plaquemines Parish Council, may vote on funding for the 25th Judicial District Court Public Defenders' Office.
The 25th Judicial District Public Defenders' Office (PDO) is mandated by the United States Constitution and the Louisiana Constitution to defend indigents. The PDO makes the determination of indigence. The PDO is seeking funding from the Plaquemines Parish Government. Some of the indigent clients of the PDO are related to members of the Plaquemines Parish Council, the body that is to vote on appropriations of parish monies. Specifically, Councilmember Edgecombe's niece is (or has been) represented by the PDO. Also, the PDO was appointed to represent Councilmember Cooper's brother and his wife.
The Board concluded, and has instructed me to advise you that the Code of Governmental Ethics would not prohibit Councilmembers Cooper and Edgecombe from voting on funding to 25th Judicial District Public Defenders’ Office. Section 1112B(1) of the Code prohibits a public servant from participating in a transaction involving the governmental entity in which, to his actual knowledge, a member of his immediate family has a substantial economic interest. Councilmember Edgecombe's niece is not considered an immediate family11Section 1102(13) states that "immediate family" as the term relates to a public servant means his children, the spouses of his children, his brothers and their spouses, his sisters and their spouses, his parents, his spouse, and the parents of his spouse.
member for purposes of the Code.
June 22, 2011
Also, even though Councilmember Cooper's brother and sister-in-law are members of her immediate family, neither of these individuals have a substantial economic interest22Section 1102(21) states that "substantial economic interest" means an economic interest which is of greater benefit to the public servant or other person than to a general class or group of persons. in funding to the 25th Judicial District Public Defenders' Office. These individuals have no greater interest in appropriations to the PDO than any other individual who is considered indigent and entitled to the representation of the PDO.
This advisory opinion is based solely on the facts as set forth herein. Changes to the facts presented may result in a different application of the provisions of the Code of Ethics. The Board issues no opinion as to past conduct or laws other than Code of Governmental Ethics. If you have any questions, please contact me at (225) 219-5600 or (800) 842-6630.
LOUISIANA BOARD OF ETHICS
Deidra L. Godfrey
For the Board
cc: Peter A. Barbee
Amos J. Cormier