LIVINGSTON — The Livingston Parish Council openly debated legal strategy for some of its most contentious lawsuits Monday and chastised its own attorney for how those cases are being handled.
The rare public discussion of legal matters took place in open chambers, despite the presence of an attorney who represents one of the council’s legal and political foes, former parish contractor Alvin Fairburn & Associates.
Council Chairman Ricky Goff also pressed parish legal adviser Christopher Moody on why the council was never given an opportunity to approve Moody’s contract, despite being responsible for his bills.
Moody had requested an executive session Monday night to discuss former parish consultant Corey Delahoussaye’s federal whistleblower lawsuit, but the council declined to go behind closed doors. A judge ruled Wednesday in the case that Fairburn could seek from the parish $5 million in unpaid fees for monitoring Hurricane Gustav cleanup work.
Moody said he was surprised that U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick allowed Fairburn’s claim for the fees to move forward after Dick previously dismissed Fairburn as a co-defendant in Delahoussaye’s lawsuit. But because Fairburn’s claim survived, the parish must respond, Moody said.
Moody asked the council for authority to file a motion to have Fairburn’s claim kicked to state court because the firm’s monitoring contract stated that’s where disputes should be litigated. Moody didn’t get that authority.
Instead, council members bombarded him with questions about why they had not heard about Fairburn’s $5 million claim two years ago when it was filed, why Moody discouraged them from suing Fairburn and the parish’s other monitors, and why Moody had not settled with Delahoussaye months ago, as the council resolved to do.
Several council members also asked Moody whether they should hire special counsel to handle the federal lawsuit. Moody said that was their choice — and one he would certainly welcome — but warned that it would drive up the parish’s legal costs.
Moody said he hadn’t taken the Fairburn claim seriously when it was first filed.
“No one did,” he said. “I don’t think Fairburn did until the settlement fell through.”
Fairburn’s attorney, Brad Rhorer, confirmed after the meeting that the settlement Fairburn had negotiated with the parish would have included the $5 million monitoring claim as well as a pair of lawsuits related to the firm’s road engineering contract.
After months of discussing the possible settlement, the council voted 6-3 against making a deal on Nov. 24 — a month after Fairburn revived its monitoring claim in Delahoussaye’s federal case.
Moody repeatedly has lamented that the parish was unable to settle its disputes with Fairburn, but Goff, the council chairman, said Monday that an email Moody forwarded to the council from Rhorer before that Nov. 24 vote had done more to kill the deal than to help it.
In the email, Rhorer said certain council members had “made a (soon to be short) career out of persecuting” Fairburn and that he no longer believed they were interested in resolving the matter. Rhorer said Fairburn had instructed him to proceed with litigation.
Goff suggested Monday deferring a vote on legal strategy regarding Fairburn’s claim until the council’s Jan. 8 meeting.
Moody then asked for a resolution authorizing him to make a counterclaim against Delahoussaye for “deficiencies” in the consultant’s billing — another request the council majority rejected.
Goff and Councilman Chance Parent said they would like to review Delahoussaye’s billing again with Moody before taking any action.
Councilwoman Joan Landry disagreed, saying the council had four or five months to review the bills at Moody’s office, “but no one wants to vote and have their name on this.”
Goff asked Moody why the council had never been allowed to negotiate Moody’s fees or set a cap on his spending for the cases he bills at an hourly rate, as the council does for all its special attorneys hired by contract.
Moody’s contract was approved by District Attorney Scott Perrilloux, whom the parish’s Home Rule Charter designates as the parish’s legal adviser, and by Parish President Layton Ricks. The council approved the budget, which included funds for Moody’s $8,000 monthly bill to handle smaller cases and general advising, but it had no input in his fees on larger cases.
Moody said the parish charter and state attorney general’s opinions permit the arrangement he, Perrilloux and Ricks entered.
“Can you hire special counsel on these cases? Yes,” Moody said. “But I don’t think you should because it would be way more expensive.”
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter @HeidiRKinchen. Contact her by phone at (225) 336-6981.