An attorney for Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks has asked for a 120-day delay of a hearing called to determine whether Ricks has the right to refuse to obey a council resolution.
The case involves attorney fees of two council members who have been sued personally for allegedly defamatory comments they made to a reporter about Ricks’ former employer, Alvin Fairburn & Associates, and Ricks’ current executive assistant, Mary Kistler.
The Parish Council has twice directed Ricks to pay legal bills of council members Marshall Harris and Cindy Wale, but Ricks has refused, citing a state attorney general’s opinion.
State law requires mandamus hearings be held between two and 10 days from when the defendant is served with the lawsuit. In this case, the hearing was set for Oct. 8, six calendar days after Ricks was served.
However, Ricks’ attorney, Brian Abels, on Friday requested a 120-day continuance, saying he needs more time to prepare “and circumstances are such that this proceeding may be rendered moot if the continuance is granted.”
Ricks said the delay is needed because the parish and Fairburn are in the middle of discussing a potential settlement of all lawsuits between them.
“This is part of that, and we know it will take some time to get it all structured,” Ricks said.
Harold Adkins, the Parish Council’s attorney, said that is a separate issue.
“One issue is the lawsuits between the council and the firm. Another is this, which has to do with whether the parish president should be obliged to comply with mandates of the council,” Adkins said Friday. “It’s in their charter. The Parish Council voted. They want Mr. Ricks to comply.”
Adkins has opposed the request for a continuance.
The case has been assigned to Judge Brenda Ricks, no relation, of the 21st Judicial District Court in Livingston.
The Fairburn firm and Kistler sued Harris and Wale in March 2013, alleging the pair defamed them in a WBRZ-TV report that aired that month. The report claimed Kistler, the former council clerk, had changed the wording of a resolution to allow the firm to bill for road engineering work the council had not authorized.
Fairburn and Kistler are seeking damages from the two council members personally, not from the parish.
Public bodies are prohibited under the Louisiana Constitution from using public funds to pay private expenses.
A state attorney general’s opinion issued Oct. 7, 2013, said the Parish Council could choose to pay Harris’ and Wale’s legal bills if it determined Harris and Wale were acting in their capacity as public officials when they made the comments.
However, the opinion also suggested withholding payment until after a judgment is rendered.
The Fairburn firm and Livingston Parish also are embroiled in a pair of lawsuits against each other for breach of contract, related to the Parish Council’s decision to terminate its road engineering contract with the firm over alleged overbilling.
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen.