Livingston expecting legal fee savings from restructuring

Livingston Parish should save about $100,000 in legal fees for 2014 after officials restructured the way the parish legal adviser gets paid, Parish President Layton Ricks said Thursday.

Legal adviser Christopher Moody now will be paid a flat rate of $8,000 per month, rather than $4,000 per month for basic advising, plus $175 per hour for work on lawsuits and other complex matters, Ricks said.

The Parish Council began raising concerns about Moody’s bills in July, after realizing the parish was paying five times more for his services than his predecessor had received.

In an attempt to curb those costs, the parish’s Charter Review Commission has been debating whether to allow the parish government to set up an in-house legal department.

Moody’s bills have totaled roughly $500,000 since he began working for the parish government in January 2012, parish officials have said.

The previous adviser, Blayne Honeycutt, drew an annual salary of about $42,000 for providing essentially the same services.

Both were appointed to the position by District Attorney Scott Perrilloux, whose office is charged under the parish’s Home Rule Charter with providing legal counsel to parish government.

Under the new arrangement between Perrilloux and Moody, the parish will pay Moody through the District Attorney’s Office, rather than being billed directly, Ricks said.

Parish officials will continue to receive copies of Moody’s invoices, Ricks said.

Moody did not attend the council meeting Thursday. Ricks said Moody was out of town.

In other business, Ricks told the council the parish received another $500,000 in reimbursement for work done on Eden Church Road in Denham Springs. Another $563,000 has been approved for payment as well, and those funds are on the way, Ricks said.

The Federal Highway Administration had withheld the final payments on the $2.2 million widening and overlay project after moderate rainfalls led to extensive flooding along the road in December 2012.

The flooding sparked a dispute between the Parish Council and engineering firm Alvin Fairburn & Associates, who designed the project.

Ricks said Thursday that Carl Highsmith, a project delivery team leader with Highway Administration’s Louisiana Division, inspected the road again after recent rain events and found the drainage had improved significantly. Ricks attributed the improvement to canal work done in the area and sediment settling or being washed out.

“I think that made a world of difference,” Ricks said.

Whether the funding reimbursements from FHWA will resolve the dispute with the Fairburn engineers remains to be seen, he said.

The Parish Council has hired special legal counsel to handle the Eden Church matter, along with a pair of lawsuits that also involve Fairburn. The council recently agreed to increase the cap on that attorney’s fees.

The council voted to authorize Ricks to sign an amended contract with the attorney, Richard F. Zimmerman Jr. of Kantrow, Spaht, Weaver & Blitzer, reflecting the increased costs.