West Feliciana assessor staying out of land dispute

West Feliciana Parish Assessor Randy Ritchie said Tuesday he is staying out of a land dispute between the Police Jury and the jury president’s family over ownership of property near the town’s old ferry landing.

The Police Jury, by a 5-1-1 vote Monday, approved a motion asking Ritchie to change his official maps to reflect that the Lambert family does not own all of the land it claims in the area, based on research by Police Juror Lea Williams, an attorney representing the jury and others.

Lambert Gravel Co. and heirs of the late Paul A. Lambert Sr., including jury President Ricky Lambert, filed a lawsuit against the jury in a dispute over ownership of property near the ferry landing, where the jury now has a boat ramp giving access to the Mississippi River.

Ritchie said he has been advised not to change the maps “until there’s a court order.”

During a lengthy presentation to the jury Monday, Williams said the Lamberts own only a small amount of land in the area.

Williams said the rest of what the family claims was either washed away by the meandering of Bayou Sara or taken over by the federal government for the Corps of Engineers mat-casting plant.

The jury’s attorney, Gary Keyser, backed Williams and said the assessor’s maps are wrong.

“There’s no doubt of what she’s saying,” Keyser said, adding that an area by the old ferry road the Lamberts blocked with concrete and iron objects has been public land since Spain ruled the Felicianas.

Williams also criticized 20th Judicial District Judge George H. Ware Jr., claiming he has blocked the jury’s attempts to introduce its research into evidence in recent hearings on the Lamberts’ suit.

She said if Ware, when he was district attorney, would have done a title search in the 1980s, he would not have advised the jury to lease property for a boat launch from the Lamberts.

Leonard Kilgore, who represents the Lamberts, said Ware has not barred the introduction of evidence because he has been hearing the jury’s exceptions to the lawsuit.

“We haven’t gotten close to a trial,” Kilgore said, adding that the assessor’s maps, in Kilgore’s opinion, are accurate.

Williams, Mel Percy, John Kean, Heather Howle and Otis Wilson voted to make the request to Ritchie, while Melvin Young dissented and Ricky Lambert abstained.

In a related matter, the jury voted against a proposed policy regarding the hiring of special counsel for legal disputes and how communications between the lawyer and the jury are to be handled.

Some jurors noted that more provisions of the parish’s home-rule charter take effect when a parish president is elected and seated, including hiring outside counsel to represent what will become the Parish Council.

Percy, who proposed the policy would not withdraw it, however, and got support from Lambert and Young.

Williams, Kean, Howle and Wilson opposed the motion.

The primary election for parish president is Oct. 19.