Firing Parish Attorney Mary Roper last year has been a costly endeavor for the East Baton Rouge Parish government and its taxpayers.
To date, Baton Rouge attorney Murphy Foster III, of Breazeale, Sachse and Wilson law firm, has billed the city-parish $141,566.18 to defend the city-parish and Metro Council against lawsuits over the past year filed by Roper and her husband, another former city-parish employee, Eiad Odeh.
Foster was initially approved for legal services with a cap of $50,000. But Foster, who is earning a rate of $175 per hour, quickly burned through the allotment as Roper’s onslaught of litigation has continued.
The Metro Council is being asked later this month to increase Foster’s legal services contract to $170,000.
Roper declined comment for this story when reached by phone Monday.
But one of her attorneys, Grant Guillot, said in a statement that Roper initially offered to settle all of her issues with the city-parish, before she was terminated, for $40,000.
“But the city-parish rejected the offer, and as a result, we are at where we are at,” he said.
The former top attorney for the city-parish was fired by a vote of the Metro Council last year, ending an extremely ugly dispute that lasted several months. Council members, led by Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe, took issue with Roper last year when her name surfaced in an investigation into another employee who was believed to have been trying to sell copyrighted software from the city-parish as his own. Roper denied any involvement with any wrongdoing, no charges were ever filed, and the district attorney stated she wasn’t being investigated.
Council members moved forward with a vote to remove her, stating that they had also lost confidence in her ability to legally advise them and felt like she wasn’t properly managing her office. Roper publicly accused the council of sexism and nepotism, saying the lawyers of the council wanted to give the seat to a friend. Her job was ultimately awarded to Lea Anne Batson, who previously served as Roper’s first assistant and the office’s second-in-command.
There are four active lawsuits that have been filed related to Roper’s dismissal — three by Roper and one by her husband.
Roper filed her first suit against the Metro Council in August last year, before the council had officially voted to remove her. She asked the district court to declare that she was not an at-will employee and that the Metro Council did not have sufficient grounds to fire her. She lost that case in state court and the Metro Council moved forward with dismissing her. She filed an appeal with the First Circuit, which has not yet been scheduled for arguments.
She subsequently filed a lawsuit against the Metro Council accusing the city-parish of failing to comply with her public record requests. In her final days with the city-parish she filed numerous record requests seeking all emails, text messages and social media messages on public and private accounts for six of the Metro Council members.
This lawsuit has proven the most time-consuming and expensive, Foster said. He said Roper’s request included tens of thousands of pages of communication, which all has to be reviewed to ensure it doesn’t breach privilege.
Roper was represented by former Parish Attorney Wade Shows for her first two lawsuits. She now works as a lawyer in Shows’ law firm.
Roper and her husband, who formerly worked for the Department of Public Works, both filed individual lawsuits with separate attorneys, claiming they were defamed when officials suggested their involved with attempts by the former employee Kyle Jones who was suspected of trying to sell the city-parish’s software program as his own.
Roper’s defamation suit, where she was represented by The Baringer Law Firm, was dismissed, but she has asked for a judge to reconsider. Odeh’s suit, represented by Baton Rouge attorney Jill Craft, is still ongoing.
The Parish Attorney’s staff is unable to represent the Metro Council against Mary Roper because she was formerly their boss, which creates a conflict of interest.
Batson said Roper’s defamation suit cost $5,653, while her husband’s suit has cost $10,003.
Foster said a judge could ultimately direct Roper to cover the costs for most of the city-parish’s legal fees for three of the four lawsuits, if the city-parish is victorious. The only suit where they cannot ask Roper to pay their legal fees is the first one.
Roper and her husband are both still being investigated for allegedly hacking into the city-parish’s computers to read emails while they were on leave or after they were no longer employed. In December, Baton Rouge police executed a search warrant at their house seizing computers, laptops, cellphones and other electronics. The warrant said someone from Roper’s home accessed the city-parish’s email server at least 17 times after she was fired and another 18 times since Roper was put on administrative leave and was supposed to be denied access to city-parish accounts.
Foster said he hopes the courts will ultimately dismiss all of Roper’s suits, if those allegations are proven as true.
“Do I put it past Ms. Roper to continue to find things to sue the city-parish for? No,” he said. “I think she won’t be satisfied until a court dismisses all of her cases and eventually sanctions her for having filed them frivolously.”