Judge pushes St. Francisville land dispute settlement

Warning that continued litigation will pile up costs for both sides, a state district judge pushed Wednesday to settle a dispute over the ownership of land near the old Mississippi River ferry landing.

Twentieth Judicial District Judge George H. Ware Jr. went behind closed doors with representatives of the West Feliciana Parish Police Jury and the family of the late Paul A. Lambert Sr.

Ware came back into court about two hours later to announce that an interim agreement, good for four months, had been reached.

The Police Jury, which meets Monday, must ratify the agreement’s terms.

“Tell the Police Jury that I strongly recommend they approve this interim agreement for at least the time being so they can keep attorneys’ and expert witnesses’ fees from building up,” Ware told John Hashagen, the jury’s manager.

In addition to Hashagen, the jury was represented by Jurors Mel Percy and Lea Williams.

Some jurors, including Williams, last summer began questioning whether the Lamberts own property bordering the old ferry road, and a majority of the body voted to hire attorneys and an abstractor to research the property records.

The Lamberts filed suit in December, claiming the jury had disturbed their ownership by moving concrete barriers blocking public access to the disputed property.

The Lambert family includes jury President Ricky Lambert, who did not participate in the meeting with the judge.

Percy put several items on the Monday meeting agenda he said were designed to reveal and curb the costs of the litigation.

He said he specifically worded his agenda items to prevent the jury from addressing them in a closed-door session as it typically does in discussing legal strategies.

One of the items for discussion is settling the dispute.

Ware said the proposed agreement will say:

The Lamberts will move the culverts, pipes and pieces of heavy equipment they put on the edge of the ferry road to block access.

The jury will return the concrete barriers.

The jury will not pursue a nuisance complaint against the Lamberts.

The jury will accept liability for claims involving the public’s use of the disputed property and add the Lamberts to its liability insurance.

The jury and the Lamberts will enter negotiations to delineate an area for public parking and turning tour buses that pick up passengers of river boats that tie up at the landing.

Ware also said the jury and the Lamberts will come up with a long-term agreement to avoid continued litigation.

While the two sides met in the judge’s office, passengers from the visiting American Queen paddlewheel steamboat were touring the St. Francisville historic district.