US Judge: Baton Rouge must end retaliation against lawyer

Posted at 7:23 PM, January 11, 2022 and last updated 9:49 PM, July 18, 2023

By KEVIN McGILL Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — An attempt by Baton Rouge officials to have an attorney found in contempt of court for releasing video of a controversial arrest was a “bad faith” effort to retaliate against the attorney for exercising his free speech rights, a federal court judge has ruled.

The ruling ordered city-parish officials to end its attempt to have Thomas Frampton found in contempt of state juvenile court — an effort that would subject Frampton to possible jail time.

U.S. District Judge John deGravelles Jan. 7 ruling in Baton Rouge came in a lawsuit Frampton filed claiming that Baton Rouge officials were retaliating against him for adverse publicity resulting from the video, which showed police strip-searching a juvenile.

The case arose from the January 2020 traffic stop and arrest by Baton Rouge police of Clarence Green. The case led to a federal gun charge against Green but it was later dropped by prosecutors. A federal judge, in accepting the decision to drop charges, lambasted the police for violating Green’s rights “first by initiating a traffic stop on the thinnest of pretext, and then by haphazardly invading Defendant’s home (weapons drawn) to conduct an unjustified, warrantless search.”

In the car with Green was his brother, a juvenile. According to the court record, video in the case included scenes of Green and the juvenile being placed on the concrete and searched, and a warrantless search of Green’s mother’s home by officers who entered with guns drawn.

Frampton, a Virginia resident licensed to practice law in Louisiana, represented the Green family in a lawsuit that was settled in May 2021. After the settlement, noting that no police were disciplined in the case, Frampton issued a news release with a link to an edited video of the arrest and search of Green and his brother. That led to a network TV news story about the strip-search of the teen, according to the court record.

Then came the city-parish government’s move to have a state juvenile court judge find Frampton in contempt of juvenile court. The motion said the release of the video violated laws in Louisiana’s Children’s Code.

However, deGravelles’ ruling noted, Frampton released the video with the approval of the juvenile’s family, and after it had been released previously to five people without anyone seeking juvenile court permission — including a release by a federal court clerk to a reporter for The Advocate. The video had been a public record in federal court for six months by the time it was released by Frampton, the ruling said, and officials didn’t seek punishment for anyone other than Frampton.

That, deGravelles wrote, gave weight to the argument that city-parish officials’ complaint was “merely a convenient way to punish Frampton for releasing the negative press release and Video ….”

Baton Rouge officials did not immediately reply Tuesday to an email query seeking comment and information on whether they would appeal.