Dear Editor, State Ag commissioner evades justice, again; political gains continue

Shirley Prejean
March 12, 2007
Clyde Dennis
March 14, 2007

Agricultural Commissioner Bob Odom, indicted on charges of conspiracy, theft, bribery and money laundering, had his case tossed out Monday morning by 19th District Judge Donald Johnson.†

This is not the first time Judge Johnson has cast a favorable ruling for Odom; last November, Judge Johnson threw out the prosecution’s case, only to have it predictably overruled by the Louisiana Supreme Court.†As justice is supposed to serve the people n and not Louisiana Agricultural Commissioners, Judge Johnson’s inane rulings thankfully did not persuade those elected to our highest bench.†† †

The foolish ruling issued recently should be no surprise to anyone who knows Bob Odom’s history.†

Bob Odom, re-elected in 2003 to his seventh consecutive term as agricultural commissioner, has devolved into both a fossil of state politics and a contemporary Boss Tweed since his first election in 1980.†

Odom has effectively used a traditionally quiet statewide office to entrench himself within Louisiana’s powerful political game. While reports of his authoritative behavior regarding his employees have been widely reported, and despite admitting employees run personal errands and buy gifts for him on state money, Odom has remained free from anything resembling serious punishment.†

This may be due to the numerous friends he has created in his time in office.† Odom’s current lawyer, Karl Koch, hosted a 2004 fund-raiser to eliminate Judge Johnson’s campaign debt, while his firm contributed funds for Johnson’s campaign.†This might explain why, after transferring divisions twice, Judge Johnson was determined to keep Odom’s case under his jurisdiction.†

The most ridiculous premise behind this entire court case is the fact that it is all being paid for on the taxpayer’s dime.†

The (Baton Rouge) Advocate reports that “Louisiana taxpayers could be on the hook for more than $400,000 in legal fees paid to defend Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Bob Odom against corruption charges,” while the public prosecution is similarly being funded by the state.†This should be an outrage to Louisiana citizens as Odom’s defense delays and postpones the trials until eventually counting on Judge Johnson to throw the case out.

One hopes the recent announcement of Rep. Mike Strain (R-Covington) to compete for Agricultural Commissioner is a sign that Louisiana is serious about reformation.†

It’s absurd that a man surrounded by controversy and indicted on multiple charges should remain in office for an eighth consecutive term.†With recent term limit mandates installed, we are beginning to hack away at the roots of Louisiana’s corruption that have grown so deep over the years.†But we must remember that these are only laws created to assist Louisiana voters in engaging in their civic responsibilities.†

Term limits are a start, but deep, internal change can only be enacted through our votes this fall.†It is time for us to reform from within, and we must begin with Bob Odom.

Mike Weitz