Lafayette SB committee tackles general counsel issue

The Lafayette Parish School Board could hire new general counsel by the end of the summer, said members of the search committee charged with recommending law firms for the job.

The committee met for the first time Tuesday and discussed a tentative deadline of July to make their recommendations to the full board.

The School Board voted in November to relieve the District Attorney’s Office as its general counsel. In December, search committee members were appointed and charged with issuing requests for qualifications from law firms and reviewing applications.

The meeting was short — about 20 minutes — and more of a preliminary gathering for members to review sample requests for legal services before drafting their own, board Vice President Tommy Angelle said.

Angelle asked the three other members of the committee who attended — Rae Trahan, Kermit Bouillion and Mark Cockerham — to review the sample policies as a starting point. The committee includes board President Hunter Beasley, who could not attend Tuesday’s meeting due to work.

Superintendent Pat Cooper, who is a nonvoting member on the committee, asked Angelle if the group plans to have an attorney review the final request for services before it is issued.

Angelle agreed: “It will have to be in front of some attorneys who are not interested in seeking the position.”

The committee will draft a request for services or qualifications from law firms, review them, and interview applicants.

The committee discussed recommending the top two or three candidates to the full board by July.

Meanwhile, the board has hired as its interim general counsel Hammonds, Sills, Adkins & Guice.

The law firm, with offices in Baton Rouge and Monroe, is employed as the district’s special counsel.

The board will discuss at its meeting Wednesday a contract for the law firm’s interim general counsel services based on the firm’s current special counsel fees, which are capped at $175 an hour.

Cooper has challenged the board’s move to hire the firm as interim general counsel, saying board members didn’t follow protocol on related votes, and has said he refuses to pay the firm for its work earlier this month as interim general counsel.

Cooper now has asked the board to give him an official directive to negotiate a contract with the firm and to pay the firm for its services prior to the contract because he thinks the board has acted improperly.

Both issues are on the board’s Wednesday agenda as introduction items for discussion only.