Judge questions claims against Pointe Coupee police juror

A district court judge could end up tossing most of the allegations lodged against Pointe Coupee Parish Police Juror Albert Dukes, who faces accusations of defamation and physical abuse in a lawsuit filed by two high-ranking parish employees.

Judge William Dupont expressed concerns in court Monday that many of the accusations that Jim Bello, the parish administrator, and Salvadore Genusa, the Parks and Recreation director, raised against Dukes in their petition lack the specific details needed to prove Dukes damaged their reputations or abused his powers as a police juror.

The judge said many of the questionable actions Dukes is accused of in the lawsuit are likely protected under special privileges he has as an elected official.

But a motion from Dukes’ attorney to have six of the allegations dropped faces its own challenge — attorneys for the plaintiffs are questioning whether it was timely filed.

Bello and Genusa sued Dukes and the entire Police Jury in January 2013, accusing Dukes of assault and battery, emotional distress, defamation, abuse of rights, discrimination, retaliation, harassment and creating a hostile work environment.

Both plaintiffs assert Dukes tried to micromanage their day-to-day decisions and falsely accused them of malfeasance in office when they didn’t comply with his demands.

According to the lawsuit, matters between Genusa and Dukes escalated into a shoving match after a Police Jury meeting in January 2013 when Dukes, a black man, accused Genusa, who is white, of being prejudiced against hiring black umpires.

Dupont heard arguments from attorneys Monday morning during a hearing on Dukes’ motion to strike a majority of the lawsuit out of the 18th Judicial District Court.

In the motion, filed May 21, Dukes’ attorney, Thomas Darling, argued that Bello and Genusa failed to cite specific instances in their lawsuit or pretrial depositions where the juror actually defamed them.

Genusa told Dukes’ attorney that many of the defamatory statements were things he was told the juror said during Police Jury meetings, the motion claims.

The motion also challenges the abuse-of-rights claim, which Darling asserts should be stricken because both men are employed by the Police Jury and not Dukes, who lacks the authority to fire them at his will.

Darling made a similar argument to also have the allegations of discrimination, retaliation and harassment stricken from the lawsuit.

The defense motion goes on to say the lawsuit’s allegation that Dukes intentionally inflicted emotional distress on Genusa and Bello was unjustified since “simple name-calling and hurt feelings are not sufficient” to support the claim.

Darling states in the motion that both men need to prove they suffered from “extreme and outrageous” behavior.

Dupont seemed to agree with many of Darling’s arguments.

The judge also said he was worried the case could open the door for anyone to sue his employer any time he gets angry with his boss.

“I really don’t know if it’s defamation to call someone incompetent at every public meeting,” Dupont said. “Public officials have certain rights to say certain things.”

The judge later added, “This is common. Councilmen and jurors all want to micromanage. But (Dukes) is not their supervisor. They don’t have to listen to him at all. They work for the Police Jury.”

Cy D’Aquila, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, countered that the defense failed to prove that Dukes’ actions were protected under his rights as an elected official.

D’Aquila also pointed out state law requires that motions to strike can be sought no later than 90 days of the lawsuit filing.

After Monday’s hearing, D’Aquila said he will attempt to amend the lawsuit with specific details regarding many of the allegations against Dukes and include additional instances where the behavior continued after the lawsuit was filed last year.

Dupont said he will take the matter under advisement but gave no indication on when he would render a decision.

Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.