Zurik: Senator’s response to FOX 8 investigation called ‘ridiculous’

Zurik: Senator’s response to FOX 8 investigation called ‘ridiculous’

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A Tulane law professor calls a state senator’s response to a FOX 8 investigative story “ridiculous.”

Wesley Bishop, a state senator in eastern New Orleans, has a full time job at Southern University of New Orleans. When Bishop had to work his part-time job in the Legislature, he used sick time at SUNO. That appears to be against the law.

When questioned, Bishop would not say why he took sick leave at SUNO to attend the legislative session. He asked to see the documentation before he would answer.

SUNO policy and state law make it very clear you can only use sick leave when you are sick. But in the last two years, taxpayers paid Bishop nearly $40,000 of sick time at SUNO for attending the legislative session.

FOX 8 has documented proof that Bishop submitted to SUNO indicating he was sick 122 days when he was actually at the State Capitol.

“He is taking money for improper purposes, money given to the university by the state, by you and me and all the other taxpayers,” said Tulane law professor Joel Friedman.

Bishop would not answer the question on camera, but 30 hours after his interview, he sent FOX 8 an email with his justification.

“A 1981 attorney general opinion allows for the use of earned accumulated leave during the legislative session,” he wrote.

Friedman said relying on an attorney general report is a ridiculous justification.

“Of course it is wrong, no question about it…100 percent absolutely. All you have to do is read the words,” Friedman said.

That’s because in his email, Bishop left out a key word: annual.

He writes the attorney general opinion "allows for the use of earned accumulated leave during the legislative session." But, it allows for the use of "earned accumulated annual leave."

That omission of “annual” by Bishop is significant.

SUNO policy defines annual leave and sick leave differently. Annual leave is the same as what you might call a vacation. SUNO policy says annual leave is “leave with pay granted an employee for the purpose of rehabilitation, restoration, maintenance of work efficiency or attention to other personal concerns.”

That is the same definition the attorney general used in the 1981 letter. This type of leave is allowed to attend the legislative session.

Bishop’s annual leave is not in question, but his sick leave is in question.

SUNO policy and state law define sick leave as leave when you require medical, dental or optical consultation or treatment.

“That letter from the attorney general is only about annual leave. The fact it refers to accumulated annual leave is not the same as sick leave,” Friedman said.

So according to Friedman, the attorney general opinion allows Bishop to use his annual leave or vacation to attend the legislative session, but doesn't give him the right to use sick time for that. The word sick is never written in this opinion.

“Relying on an attorney general report is a ridiculous justification. No one with any training in reading, let alone a lawyer, could read that letter and believe that applies to sick leave as opposed to leave since it expressly says annual leave,” Friedman said.

SUNO’s chancellor declined a request for an on-camera interview.

Another vice chancellor, David Adegboye, approves Bishop’s time sheets. Adegboye would not agree to an on-camera interview, but says he approved the sick time based on this opinion.

State records show Adegboye has donated to Bishop's campaign.

“Why is Southern University letting him get away with this?” Friedman asked.

Bishop has since backtracked, saying he would grant an on-camera interview. He did not respond to an email asking when an interview could be scheduled.

Friedman said he is “absolutely insulting our intelligence.”

“He feels he’s not accountable to anyone because someone at SUNO knows, and they’re doing nothing about it,” he said.

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