Lafayette SB continues its search for general counsel

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Incoming Lafayette School System Attorney Jon Guice, right, sits with outgoing attorney Roger Hamiltion before the start of the school board meeting Wednesday in Lafayette. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Incoming Lafayette School System Attorney Jon Guice, right, sits with outgoing attorney Roger Hamiltion before the start of the school board meeting Wednesday in Lafayette.

District Attorney’s Office served role until November removal

The Lafayette Parish School Board’s search for general counsel could begin later this month.

The board’s search committee meets March 18 to set up a timeline and review requests for proposals and qualifications in preparation to draft its own request for legal services, board Vice President Tommy Angelle said.

It’s the first meeting of the committee since its members were appointed in December, though holidays and a change in board leadership in January has stalled the committee’s progress.

Coordinating schedules of committee members has also set back an initial meeting date, originally scheduled for March 13 to the current March 18, said Angelle, who is the committee’s unofficial chair.

Past board President Shelton Cobb appointed Angelle and board members Rae Trahan, Mark Cockerham and Kermit Bouillion to the committee. Based on board policy, current board President Hunter Beasley, Superintendent Pat Cooper and assistant superintendents also serve on the committee.

For about 18 years, the board has used the District Attorney’s Office as its general counsel but voted in November to relieve the DA’s Office of those duties in response to Assistant District Attorney Roger Hamilton’s handling of a board resolution to hire special counsel to investigate Cooper. State law requires the Attorney General’s Office to approve requests to hire special counsel and to set rates for special counsel services. Based on letters from Hamilton to the Attorney General’s Office, the board’s request to hire special counsel was suspended, said Laura Gerdes Cooligan, Attorney General’s Office spokeswoman.

Some board members opposed Hamilton’s finding of no cause for an investigation and in November voted 6-3 to relieve the District Attorney’s Office of its duty to provide legal services to the board. The board didn’t pay any fees for the general counsel services offered by the DA, and the potential financial impact of its decision to hire general counsel is unclear.

Meanwhile, the board has hired one of the law firms it uses as special counsel for personnel litigation — Hammonds, Sills, Adkins & Guice — as its interim general counsel. At the board’s March 5 meeting, interim counsel Jon Guice attended at the approved special counsel rate of $175 per hour.

Guice said on March 5 that his firm planned to negotiate rates and travel expenses. The firm has offices in Baton Rouge and Monroe, and Guice works in Monroe.

On Friday, Billy Guidry, district chief financial officer, said he wasn’t aware Guice would attend Wednesday’s meeting.

Beasley, the board president, said Friday he planned to meet with Guidry to discuss payment negotiations with the firm.