Attorneys for City-Parish Attorney Greg Logan filed a petition Wednesday asking the court to require the special attorney hired by the Lafayette City Council to show by what authority she was hired.
Logan alleges in the petition that Batson "holds no such office, is acting without authority and is usurping the authority" of the city-parish attorney.
City Council Chairman Pat Lewis, contacted early Wednesday afternoon, was unaware of Logan's petition.
The City Council voted Sept. 1 to hire Lea Anne Batson of Baton Rouge as its special counsel in disputes over the budget and home rule charter that surfaced during budget discussions this summer. Mayor-President josh Guillory vetoed the move, but the council overrode the veto and hired Batson, who advised the City Council prior to the final budget approval meeting.
In a Sept. 24 letter, Logan terminated Batson, but Lewis replied that Logan doesn’t have the right to do so.
Separate city and parish councils were created with a voter-approved home rule charter amendment in 2018 and the new councils were seated in January. One of the main reasons behind separate councils was to give city taxpayers more autonomy over use of city-only tax revenue.
The 2020-21 budget was the first heard by separate city and parish councils since consolidated government took form in 1996 with a combined city-parish council. Disagreements arose during budget discussions this summer over when only the City Council could vote on budget items and when only the Parish Council had authority over budget items.
The Lafayette Consolidated Government’s legal team opined in line with Guillory and the Parish Council, giving the Parish Council authority over city tax dollars if the department was parishwide but all the revenue was from city taxpayers.
Logan, hired by Guillory, and assistant city-parish attorneys are supposed to represent both councils and the mayor-president, according to the home rule charter.
The City Council decided to hire its own attorney to protect the city’s interests, over the objections of Logan, who advised they would be violating the home rule charter and possibly the law.
In the petition to the court filed on behalf of Logan, attorneys with the Neuner Pate law firm said the City Council can override a mayor-president’s veto only after the veto message is published in full in the official journal. In this case, the City Council did not publish 17 footnotes in Guillory’s veto message that refer to legal cases or opinions, therefore, they argue, the veto override is not valid.
The City Council ordinance to hire Batson also is deficient, Logan wrote, because it does not specify the amount she will be paid, which is required in the charter.
The city-parish attorney, the petition states, is the chief legal adviser to the mayor-president, city, parish, city and parish councils and all departments, offices and agencies of city-parish government. “All assistant attorneys serve at the pleasure of the city-parish attorney,” he wrote, and the councils don’t have the authority to direct or supervise them.
“As the Mayor-President’s Veto Statement states, the fundamental structure of a centralized executive and legal department was enacted by the citizens precisely so the City and Parish will operate in accordance with consistent and harmonious legal representation and avoid additional needless legal expenses presented by the ordinance,” the lawsuit states.
The attorneys argue in the lawsuit that the City Council cannot hire a special counsel, although the city of Lafayette can. The ordinance hiring Batson says she is to represent the council.
They also argue that, just because the City Council disagrees with the advice of the city-parish attorney does not mean it is a conflict of interest warranting the hiring of a special attorney.
If the City Council properly hired Batson, the petition states, she is part of the city-parish legal team, which gives Logan the authority to fire her. She has not reported to Logan, the legal team or Guillory, the petition alleges. Logan wants the court to forbid Batson from serving as a special counsel to the City Council.