Feeling jilted, Livingston council sends attorney packing

The Livingston Parish Council sent the parish’s arbitration attorney packing back to Washington, D.C., on Thursday night after refusing to go into executive session with him to discuss what options the parish might have after losing a $59 million case over Hurricane Gustav cleanup costs.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Civilian Board of Contract Appeals denied the parish’s claims June 30, saying the parish failed to prove the work was eligible for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The ruling is, by law, binding and not appealable. However, attorney Hilary S. Cairnie, of Baker Hostetler, has been reviewing the panel’s decision and formulating options — both legal and political — for how the parish might try to recoup some of the costs for the debris removal, Parish President Layton Ricks said in an interview following the council’s vote against the executive session.

Ricks said a related $52 million lawsuit filed against the parish by debris removal contractor International Equipment Distributors will not move forward for now, but declined to say who gave him that assurance or how long the lawsuit might remain on hold.

The options Cairnie wanted to discuss with the Parish Council might best be described as “viable” or “plausible” rather than “good,” Ricks said, but he thought they warranted giving the lawyer at least 10 minutes of the council’s time.

But the council majority — jilted and angry over being left out of the negotiation of Cairnie’s contract, much of the arbitration discussion and even the hearing itself — refused to go into executive session Thursday night to hear what those options might be.

“We were all left in the dark on this, and now that it didn’t succeed, you want the council’s help?” Councilman Chance Parent said. “We know nothing to make a decision.”

Ricks replied, “That’s the purpose of executive session — to enlighten you.

“Y’all expressed an interest in being there, and now we’re trying to bring you into the deal,” Ricks said, prompting laughter from the majority of the council.

Councilman Marshall Harris made a motion to discuss the arbitration and contractor’s lawsuit only in the open. Jim Norred seconded and was joined by Parent, Cindy Wale, Delos Blackwell and Ronnie Sharp in supporting Harris’ motion.

Councilwoman Joan Landry voted no, saying, “We owe it to the citizens who lost homes to see if there is any recourse left. We may come out and say we’re not interested, but it’s at least worth hearing.”

Council members Sonya Collins and Ricky Goff also voted against publicly discussing the case.

Cairnie said International Equipment’s bank, which had financed Baker Hostetler’s representation of the parish at arbitration, was not paying for his work in seeking other options after the ruling came down. He said he was not asking the parish to pay for that effort, either.

Cairnie said the discussion of possible options was too sensitive to discuss publicly “until we decide collectively it’s the right thing, it can be funded and there’s a reasonable prospect of reaching the end goal.”

“Why would we want to educate an adversary?” Cairnie asked the council.

Ricks said he was disappointed and embarrassed by the council’s vote.

“They weren’t going to be asked to make any decisions tonight,” Ricks said. “The least they could’ve done is hear him out after he flew down here to meet with them.”

Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter @HeidiRKinchen.