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Sunday, September 22, 2019

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Judge: Parish president must sue himself over salary dispute

Judge: Parish president must sue himself over salary dispute

If Lafourche Parish President Jimmy Cantrelle wants to continue to pursue a lawsuit over his salary, he will have to sue himself, a District Court judge ruled Monday.

District Judge Christopher Boudreaux ruled during a hearing that Cantrelle cannot sue the Parish Council. Instead, Cantrelle must effectively sue himself as the head of Lafourche Parish government.

The ruling is the latest update in a years-long debate over how to calculate the parish president’s salary.

Cantrelle is asking the court to determine the proper way to calculate his salary. He claims the Parish Council has misinterpreted the ordinance that sets his pay and has underpaid him throughout his term in office.

“All I want is an interpretation of the ordinance,” Cantrelle said after the hearing.

It will take at least 60 days before the case proceeds. By that time, Cantrelle will have about two months left in office.

Boudreaux gave Cantrelle 60 days to refile his claims, this time making them against the parish government.

The judge sided with the Lafourche Parish District Attorney’s Office’s position that the Parish Council is not a juridical entity — and therefore cannot be sued — because the council does not act independently from the executive branch.

“Our responsibility is to the parish,” said Joseph Soignet, the assistant district attorney leading the case. “We are not taking sides. We want what’s best for the parish, for the people of the parish.”

Both parties declined to comment on having a parish president sue his own government.

Parish law says the president’s salary is the average of the salaries of the assessor, clerk of court and sheriff. There has been debate over whether that means the base salary, or the full salary, which includes bonuses for additional certificates those officials have earned.

Cantrelle’s attorney, Stephen Haedickie, said the Parish Council was named as a defendant because it has the authority to set the annual budget.

Boudreaux also ruled that District Attorney Kristine Russell can serve as intervenor in the case. Haedickie contested Russell had no right to intervene, claiming it was “adversarial” to her role as legal counsel for the entire parish government.

Haedickie equated Russell’s role as an intervenor to corporate counsel picking sides between two members.

“An attorney for a corporation shouldn’t be allowed to pick sides,” he said.

Boudreaux said he interpreted the district attorney’s role in this case as “a friend of the court,” and Russell has a right to provide her opinion in the matter.

The district attorney’s duty is to the citizens and to protect the government entity, he said.

“We will continue to do our job each and every time that these things come up,” Russell said after the hearing. “And we’re going to continue to do the right thing.”

None of the Lafourche Parish Council members were present at the hearing.


-- Daily Comet Staff Writer Julia Arenstam can be reached at 448-7636 or Follow her on Twitter at @JuliaArenstam.