Appeals court upholds Gallot ruling

BATON ROUGE – The Louisiana Board of Ethics can’t challenge the dismissal of conflict-of-interest charges against a state lawmaker, an appeals court ruled in the first challenge of ethics laws put in place by Gov. Bobby Jindal and the state Legislature.The 1st Circuit Court of Appeal refused a request by the ethics board to review the decision by a panel of administrative law judges to dismiss charges against Rep. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston. The court’s decision was released Tuesday.

The appeals court said the ethics board doesn’t have the right to appeal under the new system of ethics laws, passed in 2008.

The changes to the ethics code stripped the Board of Ethics of its power to rule in disputed cases and gave that authority to administrative law judges, civil service employees in the executive branch.

The ethics board had filed seven conflict-of-interest charges against Gallot involving his legal representation of a company in business dealings with Grambling State University and the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors, on which Gallot’s mother serves.

The administrative law judges ruled the ethics board took too long to prosecute the charges.

Gallot argued the new ethics laws don’t allow the board to fight a decision of the administrative law judges, and the appeals court agreed.

“We felt confident all along that this frivolous appeal would be dismissed,” said Gallot, a Jindal administration floor leader who guided the governor’s overhaul of ethics laws through the House.

Ethics board members have asked lawmakers to rewrite the laws, with several board members asking for the right to appeal interpretations of law made by administrative law judges – like the decision made in the Gallot case.

The top lawyer for the ethics board didn’t immediately return a request for comment Tuesday about whether the Gallot matter would be appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

“We’re confident that the same conclusion would be reached at the Supreme Court level,” Gallot said.

The appeals court rejected a request from Gallot to require the ethics board to cover the costs of the appeal.