ST. FRANCISVILLE — A move to pay legal expenses for the West Feliciana Police Jury’s president and former parish manager in a public records dispute with a juror failed Tuesday for the third consecutive month.
Juror Lea Williams filed suit earlier this year against Parish Manager Ambrose Sims and jury President Ken Dawson, claiming she was denied financial records by the two after the jury staff had begun gathering the information she requested.
Twentieth Judicial District Judge George H. Ware Jr. ruled that Williams did not file the proper public records request needed for the court to sanction Sims and Dawson, but Ware chastised the two for not cooperating with Williams in her request.
Williams has since had more success in obtaining jury financial records and raised pointed questions about some spending, while the jury fired Sims on a 4-3 vote in April.
Williams, Otis Wilson, John Cobb and Randy Stevens voted Tuesday against paying Sims’ legal expenses bill of $1,245, while Dawson, Billy Shoemake and John Roach supported the payment. A motion to pay Dawson’s legal expenses did not get a second.
“This is a bad day for the Police Jury,” Shoemake said after the vote.
“You’ve done had some bad days,” Wilson replied.
Although Sims’ attorney, Dan Garrett, said the jury is setting a bad precedent by not “standing by its employees,” District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla said jury employees do not have to worry about lawsuits because his office will represent them.
“There’s no sense in getting outside counsel. We represent the jury,” D’Aquilla said.
Garrett said he understands there is some “personal animus” on the part of some jurors toward Sims, but he said refusing to pay their bills “is bad public policy.”
After some jurors balked at going into a closed-door session on another legal matter involving Sims, Garrett explained the jury was supposed to give Sims a lump-sum payment for the seven months remaining on his contract, but the payment would have caused a cash flow problem.
Garrett said Sims agreed to accept monthly payments through December with the understanding that the jury would continue paying its portion of his monthly health insurance premiums.
Williams recently questioned the health insurance payments, and the jury sent Sims a lump-sum payment for the four remaining months on his contract and demanded its money back for the insurance premiums.
Garrett said the jury breached a verbal contract with the payout and by cutting off Sims’ insurance.
“For the record, the Police Jury did what it did on the basis of a recommendation of the District Attorney’s Office. And, I don’t see any need for an executive session,” Assistant District Attorney Mike Hughes said to conclude the discussion.