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Business Report

Companies are apologizing for cellphone and internet outages following flood, but they’re providing no plans for averting a repeat scenario

It happened on Sunday, Aug. 14, days after torrential rains began falling on Baton Rouge and surrounding communities, causing flash flooding and rivers to rise over their banks. Raborn, 37, says when his service came back around 1 a.m. Monday it only worked in the middle of the night and was inconsistent for three days.

With Walker inaccessible in every direction due to flooding and without Wi-Fi or cell service, Raborn had no way to communicate with anyone or get information, unless he used his step-daughter’s T-Mobile phone as a hotspot. The reason: AT&T’s mobile switching office on Choctaw Drive, which contains the heart of its cellular system, took on water, resulting in a network outage that was as widespread as flooding in the Baton Rouge area. Read more…

Faith-based and community organizations are planning to play a vital role in helping Baton Rouge heal

Surrounding Button at the July 19 news conference hosted by Together Baton Rouge were about 200 people holding signs reading: “We refuse to be divided.”

The event—and countless prayers for our community to come together expressed at it—was just one of the dozens of community meetings and vigils held in Baton Rouge in recent weeks by faith-based and grassroots organizations. But leaders of these groups say that if Baton Rouge’s prayers for unity are to be answered and the long-divided city is to effect positive change in the wake of tragedy, it will take a lot more than prayer alone.

“I think we need to recognize that as a community we are at a fork in a road,” says the Rev. Raymond Jetson, president and CEO of MetroMorphosis, a nonprofit seeking to engage citizens to find solutions to persistent urban problems. “We have a choice of one direction or the other. One direction leads us to a short-term, feel-good set of actions that are about the moment that we find ourselves in. The other road is a bit more challenging.”

Read more…

Daily Report

Metro Council greenlights Raising Cane’s River Center deal, Zipcar expansion

Major changes are about to take place in downtown Baton Rouge.

The Metro Council on Wednesday unanimously voted to approve a 10-year, $3.87 million deal for Raising Cane’s to buy the naming rights to the Baton Rouge River Center and rebrand the venue the Raising Cane’s River Center.

The council also OK’d Zipcar’s expansion to downtown. The car sharing company will lease four metered parking spaces within the Downtown Development District for a one-year pilot program with a one-year renewal option.

The council voted to amend the city-parish’s parking ordinance and approved the city’s agreement with Zipcar to clear the way for the pilot program.

The rebranding of the River Center and new the Zipcar program are two of the most recent changes to occur downtown, which has undergone a renaissance over the past decade. New businesses, restaurants, a grocery store, residences and hotels now fill the once sleepy part of the city.

Read more … 

Louisiana poised to capture share of Cuban market if embargo lifted, agriculture and business leaders say

Louisiana is poised to benefit greatly by trade with Cuba, supplying commodities such as rice, if the United States lifts the long-standing embargo against the island nation, Louisiana’s business and agricultural leaders said today.

But before the embargo can be lifted, other obstacles, such as Cuban reparations to American families and U.S.-based companies whose land the country’s government seized, must be addressed, they said.

The leaders relayed their concerns during a briefing held today with Mike Strain, the state’s commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry, and Michael Scuse, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural service.

Strain and others present at the briefing spoke of the tremendous opportunity Cuba presents for Louisiana’s agriculture sector.

“If you look at the commodities that we have readily available to us—rice, wheat, poultry, manufacturing, machinery equipment, lubricants—the country needs everything and we’re in a great place to do that,” Strain said.

Read more…

Company behind ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ launches lawsuit against unknown Louisiana resident, alleging piracy of movie

Filed on Feb. 22, the lawsuit alleges the defendant, identified simply as Doe-174.64.14.54, illegally reproduced and distributed the copyrighted motion picture, Dallas Buyers Club, through the peer-to-peer filed technology protocol BitTorrent.

The limited liability company says it owns the rights to the film, which it alleges has become one of the most trafficked films in the BitTorrent network. Pierre V. Miller II, an attorney representing the plaintiff, says as far as he’s aware the lawsuit is the first of its kind filed in the Middle District of Louisiana, but similar lawsuits have been filed in other jurisdictions though the United States.

“There is a huge problem with people stealing copyrighted material, including motion pictures,” says Miller, co-founding partner of Patrick Miller LLC in New Orleans. There will be more lawsuits filed, he says. Read more…

The Times

Prisoners sentenced to die by Caddo juries lingering on death row

Of the estimated 83  people on Louisiana’s death row about 20 percent were put there by Caddo juries — more than any other parish in the state.

Yet it’s been nearly three decades since a Caddo Parish death row inmate was executed.

Wayne Robert Felde, 38 at the time of his death in 1988, is the only person convicted for a crime committed in Caddo to be put to death since Louisiana reinstated the death penalty in 1973.

Others, such as convicted serial killer Nathaniel Code, who arrived on death row Jan. 25, 1991, and Percy Davis, who arrived April 6, 1992, for the murders of a convenience store owner and night clerk on two separate nights, are still there. Read more…

Outside special interest groups pay to influence local elections

The biggest curiosity of the fall 2015 election is why the far removed from northwest Louisiana billionaire George Soros, of New York, would give $851,000 to a Bossier City super PAC.

Locals behind Louisiana Safety & Justice PAC aren’t saying much.

Herschel E. Richard Jr., a local attorney listed as the PAC’s treasurer, would not comment beyond saying, “We formed Louisiana Safety & Justice to keep our citizens safe and to have a just and appropriate person in the DA’s office.”

Soros’ contributions — four in all — easily make the New York City billionaire the largest contributor to the fall elections in Caddo-Bossier.

Read more…

Exclusive: Cox accused of threatening defense counsel in death row case

Caddo’s acting district attorney Dale Cox threatened to cut the throats of counsel representing Eric Mickelson, court documents filed with the Louisiana Supreme Court say.

In the documents, Mickelson’s defense counsel wrote they were within earshot of Cox when they heard the prosecutor tell his co-counsel he wanted to “kill everyone in here.” Mickelson is being re-tried after his previous conviction was overturned.

“I want to cut their (expletive) throats. I’m just being honest and if any of them want to go outside we can do it right now,” Cox is quoted as saying.

Read more…

Study offers limited opportunity for new trials

In theory, all of the guilty verdicts in a pool of cases an Australian nonprofit found to be part of a pattern of race-based jury selection in Caddo Parish are “suspect,” legal experts say.

The study — called “Blackstrikes” — found during a 10-year period qualified black jurors were three times more likely to be struck from juries by Caddo prosecutors when peremptory challenges were used.

Some are speculating about whether verdicts in the cases the researchers examined could be overturned, but the legal experts say it’s not that simple.

“If there is an objection there may be an appeal issue. If there was no objection it’s not appealable,” said Jim Looney, the Louisiana Appellate Project director.

Read more…

 The politics of mass incarceration

The Bossier Sheriff Correctional Facilities on Old Plain Dealing Road had 1,433 inmates as of Thursday.

The compound’s population is slightly more than nine times the size of the capacity of the old Bossier Parish Courthouse’s fifth floor jail which closed in 2005.

Nearly 37,000 people were incarcerated in Louisiana as of August. Even though the state’s imprisoned population is smaller than its peak of 40,000 in 2012, Louisiana still is known as the prison capital of the world. Per capita, more of its residents are behind bars than in any other state, according to a recent Bureau of Justice Statistics report.

Civil Rights and advocacy groups have urged front-running gubernatorial candidates to make mass incarceration a priority and to come up with a plan to end it especially in minority communities.

So far none have.

Read more…

Local officials owe more than $17,000 in fines

Three former and current Caddo and Shreveport elected officials owe $17,275, combined, in outstanding fines to the state for failing to file timely personal disclosure and campaign finance reports.

According to the Louisiana Ethics Administration Program, those who owe fines are: Shreveport City Councilwoman Stephanie Lynch, Caddo Commissioner Jerald Bowman and former Commissioner Lindora Baker.

The Times searched the names of all local government Caddo and Shreveport officials who served within the last year for outstanding personal disclosure, campaign finance and lobbying fines.

Read more…

Update: Papers with names, social security numbers found in trash

The Oil City Housing Authority has admitted to throwing away documents containing visible names and social security numbers.

The error left countless unsuspecting individuals, who were residents of the authority, vulnerable to ID theft as their personal information, such as birthdays and social security numbers, became easily accessible to anyone who stumbled upon the dumpster.

The files were retrieved from the dumpster after The Times contacted the housing authority. However, Oil City resident Patricia Priddy, who stumbled upon them, said they had been there for at least a week.

Read more…

Local doctors observe rise in infants exposed to drugs

The babies are born agitated, experiencing tumors and have difficulty feeding and sleeping. They have piercing cries, seizures, rapid breathing and are unable to calm down.

Through their mothers, their bodies become addicted to opiates — often in the form of heroin or prescription painkillers — that are passed along through the placenta. And within days of their births, they begin to experience withdrawal symptoms.

“It’s becoming such a problem we are in the beginning stages of developing protocols for how to deal to with this,” said Dr. Gerald B. Whitton, head of the NICU at Willis-Knighton South and the Center for Women’s Health, in August.

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Black jurors more likely to be struck from Caddo juries

Renee Pipkins, 54, is college educated.

She made her living working as a General Motors engineer in Michigan before packing up her life and moving across country to Louisiana with her husband, 68-year-old Everitt. They came for better weather and friends.

The couple lived in Caddo Parish for three years before she was summoned for jury duty in 2012. She sat through the questioning and subsequently was dismissed after several days.

“I was just surprised that I wasn’t chosen because of my background,” she said.

Read more…

LED: Risk is too great for start-ups like Elio

Louisiana Economic Development isn’t usually in the business of providing up-front infrastructure or relocation incentives to start-up business ventures such as Elio Motors.

The reason: risk management.

This means many budding companies will have to produce real jobs before they’re awarded state financial incentives.

“Startup companies commonly face challenges raising the funding needed to launch their projects. Accordingly, LED is careful to avoid placing state funds at risk with such firms,” said Stephen Moret, LED secretary, in an email to The Times.

Upfront incentives are not given to startup companies unless major national investors are behind them or a project is fully capitalized, Moret said.

In the case of Elio Motors, generating enough capital for production has been a difficult process. The company intends to manufacture its highly anticipated, cost efficient, 3-wheel vehicle. Elio Motors initially was expected to employ 1,500 people by the end of 2015.

Read more…