Inside Report: Land ownership dispute getting attention in West Feliciana

The agenda for a proposed West Feliciana Parish Police Jury special meeting on Feb. 28 gave the impression a full discussion was planned on the ongoing litigation between the jury and the estate of the late Paul A. Lambert Sr. over ownership of land near the old St. Francisville ferry landing.

Sometime between the official posting of the meeting notice Feb. 27 and the next morning, some behind-the-scenes maneuvering scuttled what likely would have been a lively session.

Before 8 a.m. Feb. 28, emails went out from the jury secretary announcing the meeting was canceled.

The issue of who owns the land along the Mississippi River arose last summer after the state gave the parish the road leading to the east bank ferry landing site.

Although the Police Jury had leased from the Lamberts the property around the ferry landing to provide a landing for tour boats and fishermen, some jurors now say the Lamberts don’t own the property they claim.

The jury built a boat launching apron into the river while the water level was low, although Paul Lambert Jr. said his family owned the land between the water and the end of the old state road.

Jurors voted in August to hire an abstractor, for up to $5,000, to research parish land records regarding ownership, then voted in October to spend up to $10,000 to hire three lawyers and another $10,000 for a historical geography expert.

The dispute is complicated by the fact that jury President Merrick “Ricky” Lambert is a son of the late Paul Lambert Sr.

Ricky Lambert has not participated in the discussions, sitting outside at one meeting while the jury discussed their legal options with an attorney behind closed doors.

The Lamberts filed suit against the jury in December, alleging their ownership of the property in question had been “disturbed” by the jury’s removal of barricades blocking public access to the disputed property, public claims that the jury owns the land and threats of a lawsuit.

The jury’s attorney has filed two exceptions to the lawsuit, claiming the land claims are vague and asking a judge to force the Lamberts to include the state and the owner of property west of Bayou Sara as defendants.

A hearing on the exceptions is scheduled March 13 before 20th Judicial District Judge George H. Ware Jr.

The notice for the aborted Feb. 28 meeting mentioned the name and number of the lawsuit but did not include the required disclaimer that the matters might be discussed in executive session.

The meeting was set to discuss:

  • The status of the lawsuit, a review of the current invoices and action to pay them.
  • The facts and issues of the lawsuit filed against the parish.
  • A spending limit for future associated costs.
  • A vote on a settlement hearing with the Lamberts.

Given the public uproar that ensued when the jury voted to hire the lawyers back in October, an open discussion of the items on the proposed agenda would no doubt have elicited plenty of comment by both jurors and spectators.

At an Oct. 15 meeting, members of the audience criticized jurors for taking action on the lawyers in a special meeting that few people knew was scheduled and going after taxpaying property owners.

James Minton covers Baker, Zachary and the Felicianas for The Advocate. His email is jminton@theadvocate.com.