sT. fRANCISVILLE — The West Feliciana Parish Police Jury came under fire Monday for hiring three attorneys to advise jurors on whether the public owns land in the old town of Bayou Sara, around the old Mississippi River ferry landing.
Jurors held a special meeting last week to seek Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s approval to hire three Baton Rouge lawyers to represent them in possible litigation against the estate of the late Paul Lambert Sr. over ownership of land bordering the former state highway that led to the ferry landing.
Jury Vice President Otis Wilson presided over that portion of the meeting because jury President Ricky Lambert is one of the heirs involved in the dispute.
After hearing criticism of the move Monday, the jury set a limit of $10,000 on “waterway attorneys,” rather than $500 as had been suggested by Juror Melvin Young.
“I resent it when my public body is going after other people who are paying property taxes,” said Hamilton Willis, a critic of the move to pursue the land claims.
Walter Oliveaux blasted the jury for taking the action in a special meeting that few people knew about, rather than in a regular meeting.
The jury had earlier voted to hire an abstractor to search parish land records, but the research is not yet finished.
District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla said he recommended that the jury wait until the abstract is finished before hiring outside, specialized counsel. D’Aquilla told the jury and audience that some jurors wanted to move ahead.
The jury also set a limit of $10,000 on spending for Charles Castille, a historical geography expert, to advise the jury.
Paul Lambert Jr. also criticized the jury for acting before the abstracting work has been completed. He accused the jury of “micromanaging” the inquiry and acting before it receives a full report on the question of ownership.
In other matters Monday, Parish Manager John Hashagen reported that drainage improvements in three areas of the parish hit by flooding during Hurricane Gustav have been completed and the jury still has $746,000 remaining from a $1.4 million federal grant. He said he will look into installing culverts of the proper size in other eligible areas of the parish to further alleviate flooding.
Hashagen also said the hurricane recovery funds also can be used to buy a 500-kilowatt diesel generator for use at the courthouse, which does not have emergency power during storms and other electrical outages. The jury agreed with his recommendation to purchase and install a generator for a total estimated cost of $97,310.