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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

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Council surprised by murder trial’s cost

Council surprised by murder trial’s cost

How does the Lafourche Parish Council react when the Seventeenth Judicial Court asks for $150,000 to cover “additional operation and maintenance cost”?

At Tuesday’s public meeting some members assumed that the proposed ordinance was for money to “maintain” the courthouse.

“Is this for the courthouse to be cleaned?” asked Councilman Michael Gros.

“Within the literature we received, there’s no way to know,” said Councilwoman Luci Sposito.

Some members didn’t bother to inquire about why the money is needed, and were flabbergasted at the amount.

“I think this is a ridiculously high amount,” remarked Jerry Lafont.

And some members, interested in understanding what the money was for, asked questions of the administration in the weeks before the ordinance came up for a vote.

The answer James Bourgeois and others got was far from a request for funding to clean a building.

“From what I understand, this money will be allocated for the David Brown murder case,” he said.

Brown is set to stand trial in Thibodaux on three counts of first-degree murder. He is accused of killing 29-year-old Jacquelin Nieves and her daughters, 7-year-old Gabriela and 1-year-old Izabela, in the family's apartment in Lockport in 2012.

According to Bourgeois, it will pay for all the necessities of sequestering a jury in the upcoming case, such as transportation and hotel costs.

Such requirements as removing televisions and internet service, changing card keys, reprogramming elevators, and improving surveillance in the hotel have to be made.

According to Finance Director Tommy Lasseigne, the Hampton Inn in Thibodaux has agreed to host the jury. It will block off an entire area of the hotel and house jurors at a cost of $2300 per day.

Additionally, reprogramming elevators in the hotel will cost around $4,000. Bus transportation for jurors another $200 daily.

No other hotel was interested in interrupting their business to host the jury, said Lasseigne.

Councilman Daniel Lorraine said that the parish budget usually allots as much as a half-million dollars for judicial expenses and that for some reason the previous Parish President’s budget did not include a penny for operation of the judicial branch.

“If you recall, last year’s budget did not come before the Council,” said Lorraine. The night it was presented, there was no quorum, and therefore the budget went into effect as it was presented.

Charlotte Randolph did not set aside any money in the budget for the Courts, he said.

Councilman Jerry Jones also blamed the present administration.

“It’s been nine months since this administration took over. This administration had time to put something in there (budget),” he said.

“If we don’t approve, where does that leave us?” asked Lafont.

“We really don’t have a choice. If anyone wants to go and tell the judge what to do, then God bless you!” said Lasseigne.

Several councilmen asked for more information to be put in the ordinance.

“Why can’t we, in the ‘whereas’ section, say exactly what it is for? It’s ridiculous. I’m thinking $150,000 to clean the damned courthouse. I’m gonna vote for it but ya’ll need to give us more information to make decisions,” said Gros.

In the end the Council voted 9-0 in favor of the ordinance.

“For a man that murdered a woman and two kids, I would vote for more money to make sure it moves forward so people of Lockport get justice in this case,” stated Cory Perrillioux.

“We spent over $400,000 on the last murder case. This is a piece of cake,” said Lorraine.