West Feliciana litigation fees outstrip worth of land

ST. FRANCISVILLE — The legal fees associated with the West Feliciana Police Jury’s fight over property near the town’s old ferry landing have now far exceeded the appraised value of that land.

And that, Police Juror Mel Percy said Monday, is all the more reason why the parish should try to end the litigation.

The West Feliciana Police Jury decided Monday to hold a special meeting in the near future to try to settle the legal dispute, which has pitted the parish government against the jury president’s family.

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 has a boat ramp leading to the Mississippi River.

The Lamberts alleged in the lawsuit the jury “disturbed” their ownership of the property bordering the old ferry road by removing concrete barricades blocking public access to the property they claim to own.

During a lengthy presentation Monday night, Percy said that as of Sept. 13, the parish had spent $72,875 in legal fees associated with the lawsuit.

Percy said the land in question has an appraised value of only $36,500.

“We’ve spent too much money already on this lawsuit,” Percy said. “My suggestion is we need to have a special meeting and take this out of the courts. Then we can either decide as a jury to end the lawsuit and be done with it or we pay them the appraised value of the land. (But) this needs to end.”

Nevertheless, Percy said the Lambert family has failed to show they have clear ownership of the property. “We strongly feel it is the parish’s property,” he said.

Last month, the Police Jury approved a motion asking Parish Assessor Randy Ritchie to change the 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.

Williams said previously the rest of the property was either washed away by the meandering Bayou Sara or taken over by the federal government for the Army Corps of Engineers’ mat-casting plant.

But Ritchie told the jury he was advised not to change the maps until there is a court order.

Leonard Kilgore, who represents the Lamberts, disputed the parish’s claims of ownership, and chided the parish for failing to have abstract research completed on the property showing ownership and sales history.

Kilgore claimed that from 1998 to 2011 the parish actually leased the land from the family.

“I don’t think this is the forum to argue the case,” he said during Monday’s meeting. “We’re prepared to go forward with the lawsuit. This can all be resolved with the parish agreeing with the claims made in the lawsuit.”