Pat Brister Headshot 1 (2).jpg

St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister

A court battle over who should provide legal representation for St. Tammany Parish government has seen another round go to Parish President Pat Brister and the Parish Council, who have been at odds with 22nd Judicial District Attorney Warren Montgomery on the issue for more than two years.

The state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal ruled in favor the parish government Tuesday, according to a news release sent out by Brister.

"We are extremely happy that the appellate court affirmed the earlier district court decision that parish government is entitled to provide for its own legal counsel," Brister said in a prepared statement.

The court ruled 2-1 in favor of the parish.

"We are relieved that this chapter is behind us," Brister said.

Montgomery said he had not read the ruling and would not say whether he would seek a rehearing or an appeal to the state Supreme Court "Once I've read it and digested it, I'll be able to make the proper decision," he said.

The district attorney, who brought the suit in April 2016, argued that the parish's Home Rule Charter gives his office authority over parish government's legal representation. But an ad hoc judge in 22nd Judicial District Court ruled against the DA about a year ago, deciding that parish officials have the right to hire their own counsel.

Montgomery appealed to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in November, asking it to overturn Judge Marion Edwards' decision.

The dispute began in 2015 when the Parish Council was getting ready to put proposed amendments to the charter before voters, including one to end the district attorney's role as legal counsel for the parish.

Montgomery, who had just been elected, said he would support the administration's having an independent legal department but not the council. He urged voters to turn the amendment down, and it failed by a wide margin.

But the election didn't end the argument. Montgomery said the charter put him in charge of all parish legal business, but parish officials said the charter provision simply meant the DA couldn't refuse to represent the parish if asked to do so. Moreover, they said, the parish had operated its own legal department for more than a decade.

Montgomery's suit asked the court to recognize his "legal rights, duties and obligations'' to provide general legal counsel to the administration, the Parish Council and all parish boards and commissions and to block the parish from operating a civil legal department.

The DA decided to appeal the lower court's decision, angering Brister, who accused him of bowing to political pressure from the group Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany. She said his actions contradicted his claim that he was filing suit simply to get a judge's opinion on how to interpret the law.

Concerned Citizens, a self-styled government watchdog group, filed an amicus brief supporting Montgomery's position, as did the Louisiana District Attorneys Association.

While Tuesday's appellate court ruling could mark the end of the battle over legal representation, friction between the Brister administration and Montgomery is continuing.

Most recently, he sought an opinion from state Attorney General Jeff Landry in August on the legality of sales tax increases the parish government imposed in economic development districts it has created mainly along Interstate 12.

Montgomery said Tuesday that he has not heard anything from Landry's office concerning the opinion.

Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.