PLAQUEMINE — The trial in a public records lawsuit against White Castle town officials was interrupted Thursday when emergency medical technicians were called to the Iberville Parish courthouse to treat the town clerk after she had become unresponsive during cross-examination.
“She’s suffering from some serious medical-related issues related to this matter,” Town Attorney Valencia Vessel-Landry said about Town Clerk Monica Hamilton.
District Court Judge Alvin Batiste recessed the trial until Feb. 23, when it’s expected to resume with Hamilton’s cross-examination and with testimony from Mayor Gerald Jermarr Williams.
Hamilton and Williams are defendants in a lawsuit filed by residents June Landry and Garnell Young accusing the town officials of not adhering to the state’s public records laws and asking a judge to order the officials to produce the numerous records they’ve requested.
Vessel-Landry, the defense attorney, argued the plaintiffs’ “weekly and oftentimes biweekly” public records requests were attempts to intimidate and harass the mayor and town clerk after June Landry and Young were defeated in the town elections in 2014.
Young was voted out of office after having served 16 years on the Board of Aldermen. June Landry made an unsuccessful attempt to replace Williams as mayor in 2014.
“I really wanted to quit my job because of all the public record requests,” Hamilton said earlier on the stand before she became ill.
“I started having lots of headaches. It was just over-burdensome on me.”
Young testified he made nearly 40 public records requests last year. Landry told the court she made some 20 requests during that time.
In the lawsuit, filed Nov. 20, attorneys Charlotte McDaniel-McGehee and Seth Dornier said some of the requests were for copies of court transcripts from another civil proceeding the town was involved in, audio recordings of several Town Council meetings, town audit reports, financial statements and a list of the mayor’s travel between 2011-14, including documents showing any nonrefundable airfare costs and fee cancellation fees for several trips he canceled.
“We’re sorry that the witnesses was unable to continue, but we feel like this is a serious case with severe consequences,” McDaniel-McGehee said after court was dismissed Thursday. “It’s important that people who pay taxes get to see what their tax money is being spent on.”
In the town’s rebuttal, Vessel-Landry asserts that on May 12, Hamilton sent letters to each plaintiff stating they would have to come to Town Hall after business hours to review some of the records and pay the town up front the overtime hours it would take for the clerk to monitor them as they looked through the documents. Hamilton testified she earns about $20 an hour.
Hamilton testified the plaintiffs never showed up to review the documents. She also said Young refused to pay $20 in fees after she copied a nearly 300-page audit for him.
Defense attorneys insisted audio recordings of meetings couldn’t be produced because the town’s recording equipment was out of service.
Hamilton also testified that Young often called her cellphone, visited her house and even trespassed into a restricted area in the Town Hall to confront her about his requests.
“I filed a police report against him,” Hamilton said. “I really thought he was my friend.”
The attorneys for the plaintiffs asserted their clients’ requests were “flat-out denied” in most instances, and the denials were not properly justified as required by law. They also argued the town didn’t even bother to respond to some records requests from their clients.
“Hopefully, we’ll have a resolution that benefits the entire public body, not just my clients,” McDaniel-McGehee said.
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