NEW ROADS — A Pointe Coupee Parish police juror will have to pay more than $1,500 in attorney fees and court costs he racked up in his lawsuit against three parish officials after his request to have the parish foot the bill was denied by the state’s 1st Circuit Court of Appeal.
A three-judge panel with the appellate court also rejected Juror Justin Cox’s appeal for a new trial in his 2013 public records lawsuit. The lawsuit claimed parish administrators failed to produce outstanding residential utility account reports in accordance with the Louisiana public records laws.
Cox reacted on Monday by saying the lawsuit was “worth the battle.”
“Those same people that let this happen (now) know they have someone watching them who’s capable of calling them out on something they do is wrong,” he said.
Cox sued Jim Bello, the former parish administrator; John Gosserand, former public utilities director; and Pointe Coupee Parish Police Jury President Melanie Bueche in April 2013, asserting they refused to release an accurate list of residential accounts that were more than 90 days past due for garbage, water and gas service — information Cox had requested from the parish’s Public Utilities Department three months prior.
Cox’s lawsuit claimed he had to make a second request for the documents before finally receiving them on March 26, 2013. However, the lawsuit said the defendants only provided Cox with a list of outstanding accounts for garbage and mosquito abatement and neglected to include water and gas accounts, as well.
The parish furnished the rest of the data Cox was looking for shortly after he filed the lawsuit.
But in its judgement, the appellate court said it upheld District Court Judge J. Robin Free’s July 23, 2013, decision to toss out Cox’s request for a new trial and to hold the juror responsible for paying his own attorney fees because it felt the parish did not violate public records laws since the report the juror was asking for technically did not exist.
“At the hearing held on this matter, defendants explained that the information requested by Mr. Cox did not exist in the form that he requested, which was in the format of reports or lists rather than raw data,” the Dec. 23 judgement states. “The Louisiana Supreme Court … had held that a custodian need only produce or make available for copying, reproduction or inspection the existing records containing the requested information, and is not required to create new documents in the format requested.”
The judgement highlighted Gosserand’s testimony in the July 2013 court hearing where the former public utilities director told the court that when Cox initially verbally requested the data on Jan. 3, 2013, Gosserand attempted to show the juror residential account information but Cox said it was “too lengthy” and wanted it condensed into a list format.
And the appellate court stated Cox failed to show evidence in court to support his claim that the parish’s computer database had the ability to create the information by “merely pushing a few buttons.”
According to the judgement, the parish would have to make approximately $480 in programming changes to its software to generate reports isolating just the information Cox requested.
But Cox on Monday accused Gosserand of misleading the court, standing by his testimony that the parish had the capability to produce the information he was seeking.
“We found out, after he left, there were records on file showing that the record actually existed. He ran the exact information I needed right after I filed the lawsuit,” he said. “My point is, you shouldn’t have to file a lawsuit to get it.”
Bueche on Monday declined to comment on the matter.
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.