W. Feliciana jury debate gets personal

Acrimony between two West Feliciana Parish police jurors spilled over during a contentious meeting that consumed more than three hours Monday while jurors debated how to proceed with changing the parish’s form of government and other matters.

After the final gavel sounded, Juror Mel Percy told Juror Lea Williams, “I wish you were a man.”

“Why? So you could hit me?” Williams asked.

“I’m tired of you,” Percy replied.

After several false starts and confusing motions, the jurors finally decided, on a 4-3 vote, to hire Emory A. Belton Jr. and Jerry Jones as special legal counsel to assist the District Attorney’s Office in submitting the parish’s home-rule charter and a reapportionment plan to the U.S. Department of Justice for a Voting Rights Act review.

Voters, by a 337-vote margin Nov. 6, approved a charter to replace the seven police jurors with a parish president and five parish council members.

Percy, John Kean, Heather Howle and jury President Ricky Lambert voted to hire the two lawyers, while Williams, Melvin Young and Otis Wilson voted against the move.

An earlier 3-4 vote with the same division killed Wilson’s move to hire Kenner demographer Cedric Floyd and his colleague, lawyer Ron L. Wilson, to devise new election districts and handle the Justice Department submission, but jurors later voted to hire Floyd to develop the districting plan.

The failure of the motion to allow Floyd, who is black, to handle all of the submission angered charter opponent Lula London.

“It’s time for the Justice Department to visit West Feliciana Parish, because everything you do is discriminatory,” said London, who joined Wilson and Young in campaigning against the charter before the election.

Last month, the jury was poised to hire Dan Garrett, a Baton Rouge lawyer, to represent the jury, but Williams persuaded enough jurors to postpone a vote.

On Monday, Percy said Williams was against Garrett “because he put her on the (witness) stand and crucified her” when she filed a public records suit against former jury officials.

“He did not,” Williams shot back in a loud voice.

Percy later apologized for the remark, but he and Williams continued arguments on several other matters on the agenda.

The two first clashed when Percy, Recreation Director Megan Andrews and a number of people in the audience tried unsuccessfully to persuade jurors to use $770,000 expected from a land sale to build four adjoining baseball/softball fields at West Feliciana Parish Sports Park.

The parish hospital board wants to buy three parish-owned practice fields and adjoining land on Burnett Road for a new hospital site.

Andrews and Percy said the Recreation Department could use the new fields for revenue-producing tournaments. In turn, the money could go toward supporting other sports and park improvements, they said.

St. Francisville resident Claire Mott and others, including Williams, said the money should be used for recreation but not for just one sport. Mott said the parish needs a full-size soccer field and another set of tennis courts.

Jurors listened to more than an hour of comments on the proposal before voting 4-3 to put the money into a reserve fund with no plans for its immediate use.

Williams, Young, Kean and Wilson voted to hold the money, while Percy, Howle and Lambert supported dedicating it to the park “quad” project.