PORT ALLEN — A majority of the City Council on Wednesday refused to have the city pay more than $50,000 in outstanding legal fees to the Baton Rouge law firm that represented former mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter in the wrongful termination lawsuit filed by the city’s chief financial officer, Audrey McCain.
Councilmen Hugh “Hootie” Riviere, Garry Hubble and R.J. Loupe shot down a motion to pay invoices from law firm Phelps Dunbar totaling $51,941. The councilmen have argued that state law, and a ruling from a state district court judge in the case, prohibited Slaughter from hiring outside legal representation without council approval.
McCain sued Slaughter after the then-mayor tried to fire McCain in February 2013 over accounting deficiencies cited in an annual audit report.
McCain quickly got her job back through a judge’s order and in May was awarded a $112,500 settlement.
Councilmen Ray Helen Lawrence and Brandon Brown voted in favor of paying the outstanding legal bills, arguing this scenario isn’t different from the three-member majority’s May decision to pay $10,300 in legal fees to the attorney who represented them in their separate lawsuit against Slaughter, who was recalled from office in November 2013.
In their June 2013 suit, the three council members accused Slaughter of abusing her executive powers while in office.
“If she hadn’t reached out for any help to represent the city, what would have happened?” Brown said during a nearly hourlong discussion Wednesday. “You guys didn’t bring that $10,000 (bill) to us until after the fact. What’s the difference?”
“That was to try and get everything going with the recall — and it helped!” Loupe retorted, talking about the council’s lawsuit. “Somebody had to do it. You guys weren’t going to do it,” he said to Lawrence and Brown.
“I’m not defending anyone,” Lawrence later said. “The scenario to me is: What’s the difference?”
Much of the discussion surrounding the matter rehashed previous arguments the council and Phelps Dunbar attorney Dennis Blunt made last week when Blunt confronted city leaders about the legal bills.
Those arguments involved Hubble and Riviere’s reference to a state law restricting mayors from hiring a lawyer without legislative approval.
Blunt tried to convince them the state law referred to hiring a city attorney, not outside counsel.
“I’ve never engaged in the illegal representation of any client,” he said.
Several residents also urged city leaders not to pay the legal bills because they too felt the former mayor had overstepped her bounds when she hired an outside attorney to represent her in her official capacity.
“I feel like (the legal services) were illegally obtained by our former mayor,” Port Allen resident Roger Payne told council members. “Phelps Dunbar should look for their money elsewhere.”
After the meeting, Hubble said none of the councilmen had seen a copy of the invoices related to the outstanding bills.
“I don’t even know what I’m supposed to be paying for,” he said.
During the council meeting, it was revealed City Attorney Lance Joseph had been in possession of the invoices since November 2013.
Joseph said he had not shared them with most of the city’s administration because the wrongful termination lawsuit was still a pending matter.
“I told (Mayor Richard Lee) I felt they contained attorney-client privileged information; they were extensive,” Joseph explained. “I don’t have a problem showing anyone the invoices … but I think it should be controlled regarding who sees them.”
He added, “This is pending litigation that could lead to further pending litigation.”
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.