District Attorney’s Office in hot water with School Board member

“Your general counsel does not go against what your wishes are.” Greg Awbrey, Lafayette Parish School Board member

Lafayette Parish School Board member Greg Awbrey said Monday he wants to drop the District Attorney’s Office as the board’s general counsel.

Awbrey plans to make the recommendation at the board’s Nov. 6 meeting after he disagreed with the way Roger Hamilton Jr., the assistant district attorney assigned to represent the board, handled the board’s request to hire special counsel to investigate Superintendent Pat Cooper.

Hamilton said he found no basis for the investigation and wrote the state Attorney General’s Office on Oct. 23, saying there was no evidence to justify the expense of special counsel.

The Attorney General’s Office reviews and approves public bodies’ requests for special counsel and sets allowable legal fees.

“Your general counsel does not go against what your wishes are,” Awbrey said.

“He’s been communicating with the attorney general — trying to get (the) resolution withdrawn. He’s working against us as general counsel. They need to be let go.”

District Attorney Mike Harson said his office represents the entire board, not individual members, “and there may be times when the interests of the two are not the same. It is unfortunate but sometimes inevitable.”

“However, I will not comment further on this apparent disagreement and would encourage the board to take whatever action they feel is in their best interests,” Harson said Monday.

The board approved a resolution in a 5-4 vote in July to hire lawyers to investigate its claims against Cooper.

Though the resolution did not specify the claims, some board members said they were related to its April reprimand of Cooper over his recommendation of a man who didn’t have a required high school diploma for a new position of special assistant to the superintendent over facilities, maintenance, grounds and transportation.

At the Oct. 22 meeting, Harson also said he’d withdraw his office’s representation if the board continued to seek outside legal advice, which he considered a waste of taxpayers’ money.

“I’d like to set parameters: What am I responsible for and what are the special counsel responsible for. ... I want to make sure they’re not getting 100 lawyers to do 100 different things for something we can do,” Harson said.

Awbrey said he’ll propose at the Nov. 6 board meeting that the board use its special counsel, Hammonds, Sills, Adkins & Guice, as its general counsel.

Representation from the District Attorney’s Office is at no cost to the board.

However, a minimal amount — $4,815 — is included in the board’s budget for administrative services and other costs associated with the attorney’s office.

Harson estimated it costs his office $12,000 to $15,000 to provide Hamilton, a full-time prosecutor, as the board’s general counsel.

Since July 1, the board has spent nearly $23,300 of the $68,895 it budgeted for legal services, with the majority of it going to Hammonds, Sills, Adkins & Guice for the fiscal year that ends on June 30, said Billy Guidry, district chief financial officer.

Board policy states the Distirct Attorney’s Office will act as the board’s general counsel and the board may hire special counsel upon the advice of the assistant district attorney assigned to the board.