Ricks may be drawn into lawsuit

Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks may be drawn into a lawsuit that pits the parish against his former employer, Alvin Fairburn & Associates, to explain why he cut a check to the firm immediately after he took office.

The Parish Council filed the lawsuit against its former road engineering firm on April 30, 2012, seeking reimbursement of $312,425 of a $453,000 check Ricks wrote to the Fairburn firm in January 2012.

The council’s lawsuit says Ricks made the payment “by mistake, misunderstanding or inadvertence.”

The council claims the Fairburn firm performed unauthorized work and overbilled for the work it performed, resulting in the overpayment. Fairburn has denied the claims.

Fairburn’s attorney filed a motion, set for hearing Monday, to bring Ricks into the case as a necessary party because Ricks “actually issued (the) payment and perhaps disfavors this lawsuit.”

Arguing for Ricks to be included in the lawsuit, Fairburn’s attorney, Brad Rhorer, used a strategy employed by former Parish President Mike Grimmer when Grimmer first refused to pay the firm for the work in 2011.

Grimmer had argued that he was a party to the contract, separate from the Parish Council, and therefore had the authority to object to the payment, even though a majority of the council members seated at the time had voted to pay the firm.

Fairburn obtained an order from 21st Judicial District Judge Zoey Waguespack commanding Grimmer to follow the council’s resolution and sign the check, but Grimmer refused and appealed to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal.

Before the appeal could be heard, however, Ricks defeated Grimmer in the parish president’s race and six of nine council seats turned over in the November 2011 election, reversing the political positions of the two branches.

At its first meeting on Jan. 12, 2012, the new council rescinded the old council’s resolution to pay the engineering firm, but Ricks had already cut the check.

Rhorer now argues that if Grimmer, as parish president, was a party to the contract and could object to payment, then Ricks’ election to that office made him a party to the agreement as well.

If Ricks is a party to the contract, either he must be included in the lawsuit, or the case must be dismissed, Rhorer said in a memorandum supporting his July 8 motion.

In a separate motion filed July 15, Rhorer also seeks dismissal of the case on the grounds that the “new” Parish Council cannot claim Fairburn performed unauthorized work when the “old” council, which was in office when the work was performed, unanimously voted that the firm had not breached its contract and should be paid.

The two sides will spar Monday over whether the engineering firm’s insurance policy covers the type of breach of contract the council alleges and, if the case moves toward trial, what information each side must provide to the other.

A related lawsuit between the parish and Fairburn also involves an alleged breach of contract. Fairburn claims the parish broke the agreement by firing the company without cause on April 12, 2012, before the contract’s end-date of Jan. 21, 2021, when the parish’s voter-approved road tax was set to expire. The firm filed suit on April 25, 2012.

Both cases are moving forward after the council rejected an offer presented to it on July 24. Ricks told the council at that meeting that Alvin Fairburn Jr. said he would drop his company’s cases against the parish if the council would drop its lawsuit over the check.

The disclosure of that offer came up during discussion of a third lawsuit the engineering firm filed against two council members personally regarding allegedly disparaging comments they made in an interview with a reporter

The council voted at the same meeting to increase the spending cap for the special attorney it hired to handle the two breach-of-contract cases. The council approved an extra $40,000 — for a total cap of $95,000 — for Richard Zimmerman to fight the lawsuit over the alleged overpayment.

Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter @HeidiRKinchen.