ST. FRANCISVILLE — The West Feliciana Parish Council is appealing the summary judgment handed down by 20th Judicial District Court Judge Betsy Jones in May that supports the heirs of Paul A. Lambert Sr. and the Lambert Gravel Co. concerning a disputed piece of land at the Mississippi riverfront.
Jones ruled May 1 that the Lamberts were in possession of the roughly 70 acres that includes land between Bayou Sara and La. 10 adjacent to the boat launch at the old ferry landing in St. Francisville.
The ruling did not resolve the central ownership issue of the land.
Council Chairwoman Heather Howle made the decision to push the appeal after the council voted 4-1 at its June 22 meeting supporting an appeal. Ricky Lambert abstained and Melvin Young was absent.
The decision to appeal also comes after a compromise attempt to settle the dispute by Paul Lambert Jr. in a letter dated June 2 to Howle and Parish President Kevin Couhig that so far has gained little support.
Meanwhile, the West Feliciana Port Commission is looking at either making a deal with the Lamberts to buy the property or for the parish to expropriate it.
Howle said she made the decision to authorize Parish Attorney Dennis Blunt, of Phelps Dunbar, to file the paperwork for the appeal for two reasons:
“First, the judgment removed the act of correction granted by the state, and in doing so, essentially took away lands belonging to the citizens of West Feliciana Parish,” Howle said in an email. “I felt this should be challenged.”
“The second factor was time. The deadline to appeal the decision is July 8. The Port Commission is currently working to either buy property from the Lambert family or expropriate. As of the June 22 council meeting, the Port Commission has done neither. Had the port been successful in securing the land for West Feliciana Parish, an appeal would not be necessary. Considering these two factors, I did not feel it would be in the best interest of the parish to allow the deadline to appeal to pass. If either the parish or the port are able to form an agreement with the Lambert family, the council can vote to pull back the appeal if it were a consensus of the body.”
District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla, whose office represents parish entities, said the council already authorized the funds to cover the estimated $30,000 for the appeal when it voted for an additional $225,000 to pay the remaining attorneys fees from the suit.
D’Aquilla said since those fees were roughly $170,000, the council has decided to use the remaining money to cover the appeal.
Couhig said in an email: “Mr. Blunt and his firm are the financial beneficiaries of an appeal. He has told the council that they can appeal from a legal perspective. No one is giving them the business advice that they should appeal as a way to resolve this matter.”
Couhig also said no money has been legally authorized to pay for an appeal. He said he has advised Blunt that he will veto any ordinance passed by the council supporting an appeal. If Couhig vetoes an ordinance, a supermajority of five votes will be necessary to override his veto.
With Ricky Lambert likely to abstain as he has in votes related to the lawsuit and Mel Percy having gone on record supporting Couhig’s position against any appeal, Young likely would cast the deciding vote, as an override would be difficult from the six remaining members.