Fired Parish Attorney Mary Roper has accused Metro Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle of breaking court orders not to discuss an ongoing lawsuit.
In court this week, Roper’s attorney Wade Shows argued that Marcelle should be held in contempt of the court, an argument that will play out come early January.
Roper sued the city-parish and several individual council members, including Marcelle, over not divulging public records she requested months ago.
State Judge Tim Kelley, who is hearing the case, imposed a sequestration order on the first day of the trial. Kelley called for each witness to not discuss the case, and asked for individual council members to step out of the courtroom while others testified.
Sheriff’s deputies called as witnesses on the first day of trial said their office made multiple unsuccessful attempts to serve Marcelle with court subpoenas. When one of them finally served Marcelle in an elevator, the deputy sheriff said she thrust the papers to the ground and said she would not accept them.
When Shows questioned Marcelle on the first day of the trial, he asked her about the incident. Marcelle insisted that she was joking when she made the gesture.
Shows argued this week that Marcelle, after the judge’s sequestration order, tried to intimidate one of the sheriff’s deputies about his testimony, which may have affected it.
“I would like the court to let these people know — the defendants — that this is serious,” Shows said.
Marcelle was not in court this week because she had a family emergency in north Louisiana, according to her attorney, Murphy Foster. Foster said he has no reason to believe Marcelle is in contempt of court, and that the memo where Shows spells out the details is vague.
The judge, Kelley, said a family emergency was reason enough to delay the contempt of court arguments. But Kelley also warned that he is concerned about Marcelle’s behavior.
None of the council members are allowed to discuss the case with the media while it’s ongoing, according to Kelley’s sequestration order.
Adviser in crosshairs of Livingston council again
Livingston Parish legal adviser Christopher Moody once again will be the focus of a Parish Council meeting, as the parish’s legal bills continue to mount.
Councilwoman Cindy Wale Franz placed an item on Monday night’s agenda for a “review of the billing of parish legal counsel/advisor.”
Moody’s bills have been a recurring topic as the parish’s costs of litigation rise in proportion to the acrimony between the parish’s executive and legislative branches.
The largest contributor to that cost has been a series of ongoing legal disputes with Alvin Fairburn & Associates, the parish’s former road engineer and one of the monitoring firms during the post-Hurricane Gustav cleanup effort. Fairburn also was Parish President Layton Ricks’ employer before he took office in January 2012.
The parish has spent about $113,000 fighting Fairburn in 2014 alone. None of those fees were Moody’s, as he no longer handles any of the Fairburn cases.
But Moody did handle the initial court filings for Franz and fellow Councilman Marshall Harris when Fairburn sued them for defamation in 2013. The two council members have since hired their own attorney, but Moody is still listed as counsel of record in the case and receives copies of court filings and judge’s orders.
Franz said this week she learned of the judge’s recent decision not to dismiss the cases from an email Moody sent to every council member except her and Harris.
In the email, Moody lamented that the parish had not been able to settle its ongoing legal battles with Fairburn. Those negotiations deadlocked over whether the parish should pay Franz’s and Harris’s legal bills in the defamation cases.
Moody said he sent the judge’s decision to the council to let them know Franz’s and Harris’s legal bills — which the council repeatedly has voted to pay, but Ricks refuses — would continue to mount and that the two council members will now be cast with some of Fairburn’s attorney costs as well.
“I didn’t send it to Marshall and Cindy because they are separately represented and should’ve gotten it from their attorney,” Moody said. “It’s not like I was trying to keep them in the dark.”
The council also will consider on Monday a resolution to increase the spending cap for the special attorney they hired to sue Ricks and force him to pay Franz’s and Harris’s legal bills. A judge has ordered Ricks to pay. Ricks has appealed that ruling.
Advocate staff writers Andrea Gallo and Heidi Kinchen contributed to this article.