Ex-mayor’s legal bills confront Port Allen council

The City Council is trying to decide what to do about more than $50,000 in legal fees that former Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter incurred prior to her recall.

Several councilmen said this week they feel the city should force the ousted mayor to pay for outstanding legal bills the city has been slapped with since Slaughter vacated office. Others refused to comment on the issue or appeared to be confused about whether the city is obligated to pay the legal bills.

The city received a bill of more than $48,000 in November from Baton Rouge law firm Phelps and Dunbar, which represented Slaughter in early court proceedings in a wrongful termination lawsuit filed in February by Chief Financial Officer Audrey McCain.

Since Slaughter was successfully recalled from office on Nov. 16, the city also has received another bill from Phelps and Dunbar totalling approximately $3,500, McCain said.

Slaughter shared a contentious relationship with a majority of the City Council during her 11 months as mayor following several controversial decisions. Those included trying to fire McCain and appointing her brother-in-law as her chief of staff.

“They call on a regular basis,” McCain said, referring to bill collectors for Phelps and Dunbar, “but I have no legal authority to pay it. No money has been appropriated in the budget for it. I don’t know what to tell them.”

Should the council decide to pay the bill, McCain said, the city’s 2013-14 budget will have to be amended, including holding a public hearing on the proposed allocation.

Auditors advised the City Council in December that it could force Slaughter to pay the legal bills based on a July 31 ruling from District Judge Alvin Batiste. The ruling prohibited Slaughter from using taxpayers’ money to pay for her legal defense in the multitude of lawsuits filed against her as mayor.

Batiste made the ruling in a lawsuit Councilmen Hugh “Hootie” Riviere, Garry Hubble and R.J. Loupe filed against Slaughter. The three councilmen sued Slaughter in June because they felt she was abusing some of her executive powers as mayor.

“As an elected official we’ve always paid (the legal bills) if they had a lawsuit filed against them,” Loupe said. “However, in this situation the judge ruled ‘no’ but she went ahead and did it anyhow. We’d have to get more professional help on this to see where it’s going.”

Councilmen Brandon Brown and Ray Helen Lawrence, who frequently sided with Slaughter on controversial issues, declined to comment on the issue.

Hubble and Riviere said they disagreed with Loupe’s assessment that the city might be on the hook for the legal bills.

Hubble said the issues related to the lawsuits brought against Slaughter were of her own doing, so he doesn’t think the city is obligated to pay the legal bills.

“You incur a debt because of a misstep on your part it’s something you have to deal with,” he said.

Riviere said, “We need to move on it one way or the other. Those people are going to want to get paid. I think we need to follow the auditor’s advice some kind of way.”