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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

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Lafourche council pays legal fees for parish president

Lafourche council pays legal fees for parish president

Lafourche Parish will reimburse the parish president over $8,000 for legal fees incurred from an ethics complaint.

The Parish Council approved reimbursing Parish President Jimmy Cantrelle the $8,550 Tuesday, but expressed concern that employees were not receiving the same treatment.

The measure passed by a 6-1 vote, with Councilman Jerry Jones voting against and Councilman Corey Perrillioux abstaining from the vote. Councilman Jerry LaFont was absent.

Cantrelle said the fees were incurred when he hired an attorney, James Cobb Jr., to represent him “against unfounded accusations made to the Louisiana Board of Ethics.”

The complaint centered on whether Cantrelle used his authority to compel or coerce Parish Council members to give two parish employees a raise.

According to a letter sent to Cantrelle in February, the ethics board said an investigation “did not reveal clear and convincing evidence that a violation of the Ethics Code occurred.”

According to numerous Attorney General Office’s opinions, governmental entities have the authority to reimburse public employees and officials when they are cleared from investigations or charges.

Although the Lafourche district attorney serves as the primary legal adviser for the parish, the prior District Attorney Cam Morvant said he could not handle ethics cases involving the parish, Cantrelle said.

In the past, council members and the parish president have been reimbursed for legal fees spent in their defense after an investigation was cleared, said Council members Daniel Lorraine and Jones, both of whom have served on the council for decades.

Councilman Armand “Noonie” Autin questioned why the reimbursement was at the discretion of the council.

After an official is cleared, the council can choose to pay the full or partial invoice, or not at all, Councilwoman Luci Sposito said.

Out of respect for the offices, Councilman Bo Melvin said he supported the measure.

Parish Risk Manager Brent Abadie encouraged the council to find a solution out of fairness and served the public as stated in the attorney general opinions.

As the council considered approving the reimbursement Tuesday, members also discussed the possibility of employees being reimbursed for any legal fees they incur in the process of appealing and winning a civil service case.

At the request of Sposito, Council Clerk Carleen Babin read an email from a former parish employee who stated she won her civil service appeal, spending over $8,000 in legal fees, and was never reimbursed by the parish.

Council members unanimously approved a request for the district attorney to provide an opinion on whether those employees who win their appeals should be reimbursed for legal costs.

In the past, the Civil Service Board has approved reimbursing employees for legal fees after they win their appeals, interim Parish Administrator Tommy Lasseigne said.

Once the opinion is returned, the council could consider forming or changing any policy.

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