Lafayette SB budget battle quiet as it heads to public hearing _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Former Lafayette Parish Schools Superintendent Pat Cooper pictured here at an August 2014 school board meeting.

After hearing arguments over whether former Lafayette Parish Schools Superintendent Pat Cooper has a right to demand damages from the school board, countering its claim he owes the board money, state District Judge Laurie Hulin told attorneys she needs more time to consider a ruling.

During a 30-minute hearing Tuesday, Hulin considered the school board’s request for the court throw out Cooper’s claim that the board owes him money for breach of contract.

Cooper, who was fired by the board in November 2014, filed his reconventional demand in response to the board’s own claim that he repay expenses he made without board approval. Those expenses, the board claims, include:

— a more than $5,000 legal bill

— the salary of Thad Welch, an employee whose salary the board eliminated from the budget but whom Cooper continued to employ

— expenses incurred when Cooper refused to adopt the board’s version of the 2014-15 budget.

The board filed its reconventional demand in March — months after a judge in October 2014 declined to intervene in school board matters at Cooper’s request. He had asked the court to bar three board members from voting in his termination proceedings, claiming they were biased against him. Cooper had also asked the judge to block any termination hearing from proceeding until a judgment could be reached. The board voted in November 2014 to fire Cooper.

On Tuesday, the school board’s attorney, Dennis Blunt, argued that Cooper’s claim for damages isn’t allowed in the Code of Civil Procedure and that there are other actions Cooper could take to file a proper claim — such as amending his original petition.

“It’s the position of the school board that you can’t file a reconventional demand in response to a reconventional demand,” Blunt told Hulin.

Cooper’s attorney, Lane Roy, told Hulin the matter “is a little bit strange.”

“It is strange,” Hulin responded and later added, “I had to map it out.”

Roy questioned the validity of the board’s demand.

“How do you reconvene in an injunction matter?” Roy asked and later added, “If you have an injunction lawsuit and it’s denied, it’s over. The principle action is no more.”

After about 30 minutes of arguments by the attorneys, Hulin said she would submit a written judgment at a later date.

Cooper heads back to state district court Oct. 19 for a hearing related to the wrongful termination claim he filed after he was fired. In that hearing, Judge Patrick Michot is scheduled to determine the school board’s request that certain witness testimony not be allowed in trial. The witness list included state Superintendent of Education John White; state Sen. Elbert Guillory, a member of the Senate Education Committee; state Rep. Stephen Carter, chairman of the House Education Committee; and former school board member Shelton Cobb. In court documents, Blunt argues the testimony of the witnesses and Cooper would be duplicative and alleges the witnesses are being called to “tell the Court how to interpret” the 2012 law that changed some of the powers of school boards and superintendents.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.