The Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany organization is continuing to support 22nd Judicial District Attorney Warren Montgomery's battle with the parish government over control of its legal affairs, filing a "friend of the court" brief this week in support of his appeal to the state Supreme Court.
North shore District Attorney Warren Montgomery is continuing a long-running court battle with St. Tammany Parish officials over who controls …
Montgomery asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue last week after two lower courts issued rulings that support the St. Tammany Parish government's position.
Concerned Citizens, a self-styled good government watchdog group, had urged Montgomery to continue the fight following the 2-1 ruling by the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal.
In its filing, the group says the government's actions violate the parish's home rule charter, which calls for parish government to be represented by the DA's Office, although it also says the Parish Council can retain other attorneys for specific purposes.
"If the judgments of the courts below are allowed to stand, the voice of the citizens will be silenced not only in this instance but in untold others in the future since the defendants will be allowed to do by ordinance whatever they please regardless of clear expressions to the contrary in the charter," the group's filing says.
Concerned Citizens notes that St. Tammany's original charter, adopted in 1979, included a provision for hiring a parish attorney, something that never happened. Voters scrapped that charter, reverting to a police jury form of government, just three years later. Under a police jury, the DA serves as the parish's legal counsel.
When a new home rule charter was adopted by voters in 1998, it did not provide for a parish attorney, and voters rejected a proposed charter amendment in November 2015 that would have removed the district attorney as the parish's legal counsel.
"Having failed at the legal route to get what they wanted, they thereafter concocted a fictional history," the filing says. It accuses parish officials of trying to pass off a "Legal Department" as an established entity that has operated independently of the DA's Office since 2000.
Concerned Citizens argues that Montgomery's predecessor, Walter Reed, allowed Brister's predecessor as president, Kevin Davis, to have an executive counsel as a matter of courtesy. It suggests that the parish decided to pursue an amendment when Reed, who was later indicted and convicted, decided not to seek re-election.
The filing says the lower courts made several errors in upholding the parish government's position, including agreeing with the government's claim that a provision allowing it to hire "employees as may be necessary" gives it authority to hire attorneys.
Montgomery and parish officials have been at odd over who controls the parish's legal business since 2015, when the proposed charter revision went to voters. After the amendment failed, Montgomery insisted that the charter put him in charge of all parish legal matters, but parish officials countered that the provision simply means he can't refuse to represent the parish if asked to do so.
Montgomery filed suit in April 2016. An ad hoc judge in 22nd Judicial District Court ruled in favor of the parish in September 2016, and the 1st Circuit panel affirmed his decision.