State contractors accused in a lawsuit alleging that the Interstate 12 median worsened 2016 flooding believe they can't get a fair trial in Baton Rouge and are trying to get the case moved.

But Livingston officials say they think the contractors are just trying to dodge a jury that might be inclined to be more sympathetic to the parish.

In their suit, Livingston Parish leaders contend that the I-12 median wall acted as a dam during the 2016 flood, preventing water from draining and exacerbating flooding to the north.

A number of parish agencies have filed a class-action lawsuit against the state and the contractors who built the I-12 median.

Nearly two years after filing suit, Denham Springs leaders are eager for an update. But, due to a miscommunication, their lawyer did not attend a recent council meeting to deliver one.

One of the most pressing matters is where the suit will be heard.

Contractors with James Construction have tried to get the suit moved out of the state district court in Baton Rouge. They have previously argued the amount of damages in the class action lawsuit could exceed the $5 million threshold which would qualify the suit for federal court.

However, the suit was sent back to the 19th Judicial District court in Baton Rouge. Now, James Construction is trying to move it elsewhere in the state. They enjoy support from other firms involved in I-12 construction.

"Misleading photographs" and erroneous comments by elected officials have circulated on social media and in the news, which has led to entrenched bias among potential jurors, the firm argues in legal documents.

Furthermore, so many people flooded that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find jurors who don't have friends, family members and co-workers who were affected.

The matter is scheduled to be decided early next year.

James Construction attorney John Andrishok declined to be interviewed on pending litigation.

Livingston school superintendent Rick Wentzel said he "most definitely" wants the suit to be heard in Baton Rouge.

"I think people around here really understand it and get it," he said.

Beyond just comprehending the facts of the 2016 flood, a local jury would also appreciate the suffering wrought, Denham Springs Mayor Gerard Landry said.

"Maybe they would have some compassion for us," he said.

The Livingston officials' attorney, Josh Palmintier, declined to comment until he has a chance to regroup with his clients.

DOTD declined to comment on the suit.

"However, we can say that the unprecedented rain from the 1,000-year flood in 2016 caused extensive damage throughout the state. DOTD’s No. 1 priority is the safety of the traveling public. The concrete barriers are effective safety tools that eliminate crossover crashes in heavy-traffic areas where vehicles typically travel at 70 miles per hour," spokesman Rodney Mallett wrote in an email response to questions.

Wentzel, whose own home is represented by the class-action suit, is convinced the median contributed to 2016's flooding.

"You can't make me believe that it wasn't the interstate," he said.

DOTD has planned to build medians differently in the future while maintaining that the decision is not an admission of guilt in the Livingston suit. New medians will have slots 2 inches tall and 10-12 inches wide every 12 to 20 feet.

The design is meant only to drain water on the roadway, rather than addressing flooding in the area at large.

In the meantime, plaintiffs must wait as the dozens of litigants sift through piles of legal and engineering documents already produced in the suit.

"Patience is something we'll have to learn," Landry said.

At least Livingston residents got used to waiting in the past two years from dealing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration, he noted wryly.

Even if the Livingston authorities are successful, there's no guarantee that the courts would be able to compel the state to pay the property owners north of Interstate 12. Livingston leaders have said from the beginning that they don't want money, they want DOTD to change.

Palmintier said he has made tentative plans to visit Denham Springs to give an update on the lawsuit during the city council meeting Nov. 13.


Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.