Harson said his office still represents Lafayette School Board

Decision on interim choice not yet made

Assistant District Attorney Roger Hamilton will continue to serve as the Lafayette Parish School Board’s general counsel until a decision on interim counsel is made and approved by the Attorney General’s Office, 15th Judicial District Attorney Mike Harson said Thursday.

The School Board voted Nov. 20 to relieve the District Attorney’s Office as its general counsel, however, it has yet to select an interim replacement while searching for permanent general counsel representation.

At Wednesday’s board meeting, a motion to hire the board’s special counsel Hammonds, Sills, Adkins & Guice as interim general counsel failed in a 4-4 vote. Board members: Greg Awbrey, Mark Allen Babineaux, Rae Trahan and Tommy Angelle voted in support of naming interim counsel, while Mark Cockerham, Kermit Bouillion, Shelton Cobb and Hunter Beasley voted against.

Harson said Thursday that until the board makes a decision on interim counsel, Hamilton will continue to serve as general counsel.

“In my opinion, at this time, we are general counsel,” Harson said. “They can relieve us of our responsibility by hiring other counsel. The problem is — and through discussion with the AG’s office — when they vote to remove us as general counsel, that is subject to our approval, which I haven’t done at this time because I don’t want to leave them without general counsel.”

On Thursday, Superintendent Pat Cooper said Hamilton has continued in his role in an advisory capacity, but hasn’t signed any official documents to prevent future liability issues.

Harson said he doesn’t think there’s any cause for concern.

“In my opinion, them voting to remove us did not effectuate a removal because we have to approve it and the AG’s Office has to approve it,” Harson said.

He said a resolution relieving his office as general counsel has been prepared and awaiting board decisions on the interim counsel issue.

Board member Awbrey proposed the general counsel change after Hamilton wrote a letter in October to the Attorney General’s Office stating that he found no evidence to support the board’s request to hire special counsel to investigate Cooper. Awbrey has said Hamilton failed to act in the board’s interest when he sent the letter.

Cooper has challenged the board’s decisions.

The general counsel policy revision was on Wednesday’s agenda as an introduction item and an effort to advance it to the action agenda failed to garner a super-majority or the six votes needed for the move.

During Wednesday’s meeting, he also challenged whether the board’s decisions left the district without general counsel. Awbrey disputed that claim Thursday.

“We’re in a process of assigning general counsel, so I don’t know that he can say that we’re denying general counsel, we’re just in the process of making change,” Awbrey said.

A decision on interim counsel is needed, but it was unclear Thursday whether Awbrey can bring it back before the board since he wasn’t on the prevailing side of the vote, said board vice president and parliamentarian Hunter Beasley.

“I’m researching the issue,” Beasley. “It definitely needs to be addressed. I recognize that and if I have to bring it back before the board, I would.”

Beasley and Awbrey both said Thursday that they’d like to see the interim counsel issue back on the agenda for the board’s Dec. 18 meeting.

Who brings up the issue again is a procedural, not legal issue, Harson said.

In the meantime, Beasley said he thinks it makes sense that Hamilton continue in his role.

“We did vote to discontinue the services. But in reality, does anyone think that you just stop everything and walk away? There has to be some transition period,” Beasley said.

The next step is for the board to start the selection process for permanent general counsel. It voted 6-3 on Wednesday to start the search process, which involves the creation of a search committee to issue a request for proposals from law firms and review them to make a recommendation to the full board. Based on board policy, the committee will include, the board president, four board members appointed by the board president, and the superintendent. According to the policy, assistant superintendents are appointed to the committee in an advisory and non-voting capacity. There is only one assistant superintendent on staff.