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Slaughter appears at court - He won't say if he testified about Anderson

Author(s): PENNY BROWN and SONYA K1MBRBLL Date: December 8,2006 Section: Metro

Southern University System President Ralph Slaughter appeared at the Baton Rouge federal courthouse Thursday, renewing questions about why a criminal grand jury is interested in sexual harassment claims against his superior. Neither Slaughter nor his lawyer, Jill Craft, would comment on whether he was there to testify before a grand jury about allegations against Southern University Board of Supervisors Chairman Johnny Anderson.

Anderson, who also is an aide to the governor, has not been charged with any crime and has said he never harassed any employees.

U.S. Attorney David Dugas declined Thursday to confirm or deny that authorities are even investigating the matter.

Earlier this month, Slaughter responded to a federal grand-jury subpoena seeking records involving the allegations.

The accusations against Anderson were made public after Slaughter sent a letter to a state senator asking for a confidential investigation. Slaughter serves under the board Anderson heads.

At Gov. Kathleen Blanco's request, attorney Mike Falcon is heading an independent investigation into whether Anderson sexually harassed Southern University employees.

Falcon and others familiar with the federal legal system have questioned the U.S. Attorney's Office's interest in a sexual-harassment matter.

Such allegations typically are brought in a civil lawsuit rather than prosecuted criminally. Only certain types of crimes fall under federal jurisdiction.

"I can't imagine how the federal government might be involved," said Baton Rouge criminal defense lawyer Thomas Damico. "I don't know where they would get jurisdiction. Maybe something in this case alerted them to something else. We just don't have all the facts."

LSU law professor John Baker, a frequent critic of the growing number of crimes now prosecuted at the federal level, said that "on the face of it, it sounds preposterous that this is a federal interest,"

"Why are they investigating? The short answer is, 'He made the newspapers,"' Baker said. "Federal prosecutors decide they're going to go after a person, and they decide what they're going to charge them with later. They view it as they're supposed to wipe out corruption."

Some speculate federal authorities might be investigating because Southern University gets federal funding or because Anderson is a public official.

The federal bribery statute, for example, targets public officials who solicit anything of value from someone in exchange for reward. The Hobbs Act targets those who seek something of value by threatening economic deprivation.

"Usually, sexual harassment refers to employment discrimination, and that's a civil statute normally brought by a private plaintiff," said LSD law professor Stuart Green. "But if a defendant seeks money in return and says, 'I will continue to harass or threaten you unless you pay me money,' that could constitute extortion."

Baton Rouge defense lawyer Jim Boren has another theory.

"I can't figure it out," he said. "It could conceivably be a civil rights violation, depriving a person of their rights under color of state law. But that's just wild speculation. We just don't know for sure."

Copyright (c) 2006 Capital City Press, Baton Rouge, La.

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