Insurance company won’t cover police chief’s legal fees

Sorrento’s insurer says it will not pay for the legal defense of the town nor Police Chief Earl Theriot Jr. in a lawsuit accusing the chief of the sexual assault of an intoxicated woman late last year.

Risk Management has refused to pay even though the offenses are alleged to have happened when the Police Department still held a policy with the company.

The company said, however, the lawsuit was filed after its policy with the Police Department ended.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge claims Theriot supplied an intoxicated Ascension Parish woman with alcohol and forced her to give him oral sex over a four-hour period on Nov. 1 while she was bound under the desk in his office.

Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley recently opened a criminal probe into the allegations.

Risk Management canceled the department’s liability policy Nov. 19. The company still covers the town.

But Risk Management said in a Jan. 31 letter to Sorrento Mayor Mike Lambert that the Police Department policy only covered claims made while the policy was in effect. The lawsuit was filed Jan. 17.

“We suggest you have counsel of your choosing, at your expense, defend all allegations made against all defendants,” said Ronald A. Reibe, Risk Management casualty claims manager, in the letter to the mayor. Reibe also said Theriot should hire his own attorney as well.

The suit names only Theriot, both individually and in his capacity as police chief.

Lambert referred comments to the town’s attorney, Matthew Percy, on Tuesday.

“I can’t comment because of pending litigation,” Percy said. “I am looking into the matter and will make a recommendation to the mayor and the council whenever it is possible.”

Theriot’s attorney, Roger W. Jordan Jr., said he expected the issue to be fought in court.

Numerous opinions from the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office say local governments can pay officials’ legal bills in civil suits when the allegations that arise out of their official duties.

The Attorney General’s Office also says government must stop paying and try to recover expenses if it is determined the allegations are outside the officials’ scope of duties.

Assistant Attorney General Lindsey K. Hunter wrote to the Livingston Parish Council in October that the best practice may be to wait to pay the legal expenses of two council members sued for defamation until a court decides their comments in the course of their duties or until a court finds them not at fault.

In those two suits, the council members were named only as defendants individually.

The Livingston council had asked for the attorney general’s opinion to confirm its June 13 decision to pay the legal bills of council members Marshall Harris and Cindy Wale. The council believed the comments were made in the course of their duties.

Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks has refused to sign the check, however.

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.