A pair of resolutions got Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks into a lawsuit with the former members of the Parish Council, and it may be a pair of resolutions that gets him out Thursday.
Ricks and the council were at odds for most of the past three years over whether the parish should pay the legal bills of two then-council members sued personally for alleged defamation.
The dispute stems from comments former council members Marshall Harris and Cindy Wale Franz made for a March 2013 WBRZ-TV report. The report claimed former council clerk Mary Kistler, who is now Ricks’ top aide, changed the wording of a council resolution to allow Alvin Fairburn & Associates, Ricks’ former employer, to perform more work on a road project than the council had authorized.
Fairburn and Kistler each sued the two council members in state court. Fairburn’s lawsuit was later dismissed as part of a larger settlement with the parish over multiple legal disputes. Kistler’s lawsuit remains active.
The prior Parish Council twice pass resolutions for Ricks to pay Harris and Wale Franz’s attorney fees in defending the lawsuits. When Ricks repeatedly refused, the council sued him in September 2014.
A month later, Judge Brenda Ricks, no relation, of the 21st Judicial District Court, granted the council’s request for a writ of mandamus — an order compelling a public official to perform a legally required duty — saying the parish president had no authority to ignore the resolutions.
President Ricks appealed, and this past October, just before the entire council was replaced, a panel of the 1st Circuit heard arguments in the case.
The appeals panel has not yet issued a ruling.
If two resolutions on Thursday night’s council agenda are approved, the judges’ decision could be moot anyway.
Councilman Garry Talbert is asking the council to rescind the prior council’s two resolutions ordering Ricks to pay the bills and, in a separate resolution, seeking dismissal of the mandamus action.
“It’s strictly a money-saving deal on my part,” Talbert said, noting that the two parish branches have racked up about $45,000 in attorney fees battling each other over whether to pay Harris and Wale Franz’s attorney.
The prior council in December increased the cap on its attorney’s fees from $25,000 — which the attorney already had exceeded — to $45,000.
There is no cap on Harris and Wale Franz’s legal expenses, Talbert said.
“I don’t want to set a precedent saying we won’t pay a councilman’s attorney. I’m a councilman now, and I know you can be sued for anything,” Talbert said. “But I think we want to stop spending wasteful money. When there’s some resolution in the (underlying defamation) case, those two (former council members) can come back with an established amount on a bill, and I’m pretty sure we’re going to pay it.”
Harris and Wale Franz could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
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