Durel found in contempt

LAFAYETTE - A judge found City-Parish President Joey Durel in contempt of court Monday for removing three Lafayette Housing Authority members after the judge had reinstated them.

Fifteenth Judicial District Judge Ed Rubin ordered Durel to pay a $258 fine and perform eight hours of community service speaking at local schools on the role of government, according to court minutes of the contempt hearing.

The judge also gave Durel a 15-day suspended jail sentence, which the city-parish president would face only if he fails to pay the fine or perform the community service.

Durel referred comment to City-Parish Attorney Michael Hebert.

“We are disappointed by today’s ruling, but recognize and respect that this is part of the judicial process,” Hebert said in a written statement. “We strongly disagree with this decision and are considering our available options to seek further judicial review.”

The contempt ruling comes in a controversy over the Lafayette Housing Authority that has stretched for more than a year.

A state audit last year found widespread problems in management and spending at the agency, which oversees the city’s low-income public housing programs.

The director and assistant director resigned shortly after the audit was made public, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development took over management of the Housing Authority in March, disbanding its board of commissioners. The contempt issue arose before HUD took control of the agency.

Durel, citing what he characterized as lax oversight by the local housing board, had removed board members Joe Dennis, Leon Simmons and John Freeman.

The three men responded with a lawsuit challenging their dismissal, arguing that they should not be blamed because the volunteer board had little control over the daily management of the housing authority.

Rubin reinstated the three men in a ruling that said Durel did not give sufficient legal grounds to oust them.

Durel then dismissed the three men a second time, citing more specific reasons for his decision.

Dennis, Simmons and Freeman countered by asking Rubin to hold Durel in contempt for what they argued was a violation of the judge’s earlier order to reinstate them.

City-Parish Attorney Michael Hebert has argued the second dismissal was not a violation of the earlier order because Durel cited new reasons.

Rubin on Monday also reversed the dismissal of the three board members, though it was unclear on Monday what effect if any that might have now that HUD has disbanded the local board and taken over management of the agency.