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Sunday, September 22, 2019

St. Tammany Parish DA asks court to give him control of all parish government legal affairs

By Taryn Phaneuf | May 19, 2016

COVINGTON — A 22nd Judicial District Court judge will hold the second hearing in a lawsuit between the district attorney and the St. Tammany Parish government on Monday. 

District Attorney Warren Montgomery sued the parish government, including Parish President Pat Brister and the Parish Council, to determine who should control the parish’s legal counsel.

Montgomery started serving as district attorney in January 2015. In the lawsuit, he claims the parish government’s legal department is illegal because attorneys in the department advise the government, but aren’t under his direction.

The parish president and the parish council hired attorneys to address the lawsuit. In a response to Montgomery’s allegations, the parish government claims that state law and the charter allow it to operate its own legal department. The defendants also denied that they’re required to defer to the district attorney as their “sole legal advisor.”

Brister’s attorney declined to comment on the suit.

In March 2015, the parish council’s charter review committee recommended changing the charter so the council could hire its own attorneys instead of working with the district attorney’s office. Montgomery opposed the idea, but it ended up on the November ballot to be decided by parish residents. Voters rejected the amendment.

After that, parish government officials and Montgomery tried to work out a solution everyone could live with. When they couldn’t, Montgomery turned to the courts.

At the time that he opposed the council hiring its own attorneys, Montgomery had no problem with the parish president’s administration having one because of the size and workload of the executive office.

That opinion became irrelevant, however, when voters turned down a proposition to amend the home rule charter, removing Montgomery’s oversight of the parish government’s legal counsel, he told the Louisiana Record.

“The lawsuit is an attempt to clarify what the law is so everyone knows what their rights and obligations are,” Montgomery recently told the Louisiana Record.

He declined to comment further on the suit.

Ad Hoc Judge Marion Edwards is presiding over the case.

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