Lawyer won’t represent Livingston council in bill dispute

A Hammond lawyer has declined to represent the Livingston Parish Council in trying to force Parish President Layton Ricks to pay the legal bills of two council members sued personally for defamation.

In a letter submitted to the council clerk on Wednesday, lawyer Brett K. Duncan said his refusal to take the case was “for various reasons” but should not be taken as a statement on the strength or merits of the case.

Duncan declined further comment when reached by cellphone Thursday, saying it would not be appropriate professionally to elaborate.

The council voted Dec. 5 to hire Duncan to file the lawsuit, known as a writ of mandamus, after Ricks refused Nov. 25 to pay a private lawyer to defend council members Marshall Harris and Cindy Wale for comments they made to a reporter.

Another council vote will be required to hire a different attorney, if the council decides to proceed with the mandamus action.

The council members’ comments, given for a March news report on WBRZ-TV, concerned whether an engineering firm conspired with the parish’s former council clerk to charge the parish for unauthorized work on a road project.

After the report aired, Alvin Fairburn & Associates and former clerk Mary Kistler sued Harris and Wale personally, claiming the two council members were acting outside the scope of their official duties in providing the comments.

Harris and Wale have said the reporter would not have asked them for comment if they were not public officials.

Fairburn and Kistler both have said they are not seeking money from the parish.

That declaration, coupled with a state attorney general’s opinion suggesting the parish wait for the outcome of the case before deciding to reimburse any legal fees, prompted Ricks to refuse to pay the attorney’s invoices.