Legal fees dropping for Livingston Parish government

Doubling the monthly retainer for Livingston Parish’s legal adviser has dropped his overall billing for the past two months and could save the parish as much as $100,000 this year, parish officials say.

Several Parish Council members raised concerns over the past year about legal adviser Christopher Moody’s bills, after the parish’s annual legal adviser costs rose from $45,000 before 2012 to an average of $235,000 in 2012 and 2013.

The difference was due largely to how the attorneys were compensated: Moody’s predecessor, Blayne Honeycutt, drew an annual salary while Moody charged a flat fee of $4,000 per month for daily advising and basic lawsuits, plus $175 per hour for work on more complex cases.

Under a renegotiated contract that went into effect in February, Moody continues to bill $175 hourly for federal court cases and lawsuits filed against parish officials personally.

But his monthly fee, which doubled to $8,000, now covers all other state court cases and general legal advice.

The changes have lowered his monthly bills from an average of $21,250 to $10,000 over the past two months, according to parish finance figures.

The parish has only three court cases that qualify for the hourly billing rate, one of which is nearly closed, Moody said Tuesday.

The other two matters are federal lawsuits against former parish contractor Corey Delahoussaye and Hurricane Gustav debris removal contractor International Equipment Distributors.

Moody estimated bills for those cases will total $50,000 for the rest of 2014.

If that estimate holds, Moody’s costs for the year would total less than $160,000, compared with $225,000 for 2013 and $248,000 for 2012.

In effect, the parish could save nearly $100,000 on legal adviser costs this year, Parish President Layton Ricks said.

Moody said the lower costs reflect the more normal patterns of parish officials who are beginning to settle into their roles after having taken office shortly before he was hired in 2012.

“The first year, we had a brand new administration, new staff, new councilmen,” Moody said. “They were very aggressive about making changes, some of which were controversial. Everything is calming down now.”

Ricks said Tuesday he is pleased with the new agreement, but expressed concern about the parish’s legal bills on cases handled by special counsel.

“It just concerns me that we’re willing to negotiate with our own legal representative, yet we’re paying special counsel $300 per hour for a couple of cases that are right where Mr. Moody left them when he was handling them for $175 an hour,” Ricks said.

Those cases, a pair of lawsuits against the parish’s former road engineering firm, Alvin Fairburn & Associates, are being handled by Richard F. Zimmerman Jr., of Kantrow Spaht Weaver & Blitzer.

Zimmerman has billed the parish for more than $120,000 since May 2013 for work on the two lawsuits and a third dispute with Fairburn engineers over flooding problems on Eden Church Road near Denham Springs.

The council hired Zimmerman after Moody withdrew from the cases in April 2013.

Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter @HeidiRKinchen.