Ricks aide files defamation suit in Livingston

A top aide to Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks has sued two Parish Council members alleging they made false accusations against her in a television broadcast.

Mary Kistler, who serves as Ricks’ executive assistant, alleges in the lawsuit filed in 21st Judicial District Court that Council Chairman Marshall Harris and Parish Councilwoman Cindy Wale falsely accused her of conduct that would “constitute a crime had it occurred.”

The television news story, which included interviews with Harris and Wale, falsely claimed that Kistler had “engaged in improper conduct, which resulted in the parish being overcharged by $31,000 and paying for work the council never authorized,” the lawsuit states.

In fact, the council unanimously approved paying $35,000 for work on the road project in question in 2011, and the bill only came to $31,000, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit states that when Kistler was clerk for the council, she prepared minutes of a council meeting that accurately detailed a resolution in which the council agreed to spend up to $35,000 on the evaluation phase of potential work on Duff Road.

A transcript of the tape recording of the council meeting shows the councilman making the motion clearly stated that it sought authorization to proceed with the “evaluation phase” of the road project and that the cost for that phase would be “up to $35,000.”

The transcript also shows that both Harris and Wale voted in favor of the motion, the suit states.

In a television report last month, Harris and Wale accused Kistler of falsifying council records “causing the parish to spend $31,000 which the Parish Council had never authorized, according to the suit.

“Both of the defendants, who more recently made false statements claiming that the council never approved this work, actually voted for the work themselves,” the lawsuit states.

The council and the two defendants “specifically authorized the precise actions” taken on the road project, which cost $4,000 less than they authorized, according to the suit.

The lawsuit named Wale and Harris as individuals and did not name the parish or WBRZ-TV, which aired the story.

The lawsuit specifically stated Kistler is not seeking judgment against the parish “because she does not wish to burden this parish’s taxpayers with the expenses they might otherwise incur as a consequence of the reckless, unlawful, false and defamatory statements made by the defendants … .”

Neither Wale nor Harris could be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

Last month, the engineering firm that did the work, Alvin Fairburn & Associates, filed a similar lawsuit against Wale and Harris. It also did not name the parish or the TV station.

Kistler left her job as council clerk and became executive assistant to Ricks when he took office as parish president in January 2012.

Wale and Harris often have been at odds with Ricks since he took office. A number of those issues have involved Fairburn & Associates, the engineering firm for which Ricks worked prior to running for office.