Parish attorney’s fate up for Wednesday vote
Under the gun from some Metro Council members, Parish Attorney Mary Roper sent a letter Monday to the council urging them to allow her to continue her job and asking them to ignore the “political whims of a vocal minority.”
The council will vote Wednesday whether to initiate a process to remove her by officially expressing its intention to fire her and setting a hearing at 3 p.m. May 28 to allow her to make a case for herself.
The final vote to remove her would follow the hearing, should the process make it past the first hurdle this week.
Roper says in her letter that she has “served honorably and to the best of my ability” for more than 20 years.
“That service and the necessary decisions have occasionally made me unpopular, but my integrity has never been questioned,” she wrote. “I urge you not to indulge the political whims of a vocal minority to the detriment of this office and the City-Parish.”
At issue is whether Roper violated any rules when she sent her husband, Eiad Odeh, another city-parish employee, an email with source codes for a software program called TRACE 360. The software program, which is used to streamline disaster management functions, was created in-house by city-parish employees.
Roper said she was in the process of getting the program copyrighted for the city, and sent her husband the codes for assistance because he has a background in computer programming.
Council members have questioned why she would send the uncopyrighted codes to her husband who, as a software entrepreneur, could use them to his advantage.
The issue came to light because another employee, Kyle Jones, who has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, was discovered to have been attempting to sell the TRACE 360 program as his own. Council members have quietly questioned the relationship between Odeh and Jones.
However, Odeh has not been placed on leave. And there are no apparent investigations by law enforcement into either Roper or Odeh.
District Attorney Hillar Moore III confirmed last week that he met with city-parish officials to discuss Jones, but he specifically noted Roper was not being investigated.
In her letter, Roper states that “Neither I, nor my husband had any connection to that investigation or alleged ‘theft’.”
Council members John Delgado, Trae Welch and Buddy Amoroso placed the measure on the agenda to initiate Roper’s removal. Amoroso initially said last week that Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe was expected to sponsor the item as well, but he did not.
Loupe, Delgado and Welch are lawyers.
Some members of the council say they are concerned the action against Roper is politically motivated.
“From my standpoint, she hasn’t done anything wrong,” Councilman Joel Boé said. “To put her on the chopping block over this particular issue doesn’t seem warranted.”
He said her office has done satisfactory work and has always been responsive to his requests.
“I know the attorneys on the council have a much different opinion,” he said. “I would tend to think there are other underlying issues they have with her, and this is a mechanism or a way to bring them to the surface.”
Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel also said she has concerns the council is being asked to make a decision without any investigation.
“Some council members have a negative relationship with her and I think that kind of clouds their decision making,” she said. “The motives may not be pure and all hands are not on the table. But the only way for us to clarify that is with an independent investigation.”
Roper has said there was nothing improper about sending the TRACE 360 codes to her husband because the source codes are a public record.
A New Orleans public records lawyer, Scott Sternberg, agrees.
“The general rule is that any record in the custody or control of a public entity is a public record,” he said when contacted by The Advocate.
“I’m unaware of any statute that would exempt source code unless it included security measures.”
But Delgado said she breached attorney-client privilege when she shared the codes with her husband.
“In the absence of a public record request, she had no right to disclose the source codes, especially since they were proprietary in nature,” Delgado said.
“If you’re an author and I’m your attorney and you send me a copy of your book to copyright it as an attorney,” he said, “and before I copyright it I share it with my wife or my daughter, then I’ve violated my duties as your attorney.”
Roper often has found herself in the hot seat with the Metro Council.
In 2010, Loupe unsuccessfully attempted to have her fired, citing concerns about her management of the office.
He suggested at the time that Roper was allowing staff to collect full-time pay while working only part-time hours.
Last year, Welch and Delgado called for a panel to review the Parish Attorney’s Office.
Loupe declined comment for this story. Welch did not return a phone call for comment.
Roper said in an email that she would not resign, and if the council votes to initiate the process for her removal, she would move forward with a public hearing to fight for her job.
Roper has been with the Parish Attorney’s Office for more than 20 years, and was appointed head of the office in 2008. She is paid $120,994 annually.
She said if she is able to retain her job, she could continue to maintain a professional relationship with the council members despite the attempt to remove her.
“I will continue to give sound legal advice based on my honest assessment of the law, without regard to personal differences,” she said in the email.