Cost of lawsuit in dispute

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 30, 2003

By Sue Ellen Ross Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – The St. John Parish School Board and the St. John Parish Council will each pay their fair share in the settlement of a lawsuit filed last summer.

But the total amount of that bill, which is supposed to cover ‘reasonable’ attorneys fees and other costs of the plaintiffs, is the center of a heated controversy.

The school board’s tab is $106,898.50; the council’s bill lists $59,040.50; for a total of $165,939.

A statement sent to the school board includes charges for 236 attorney hours; 320 hours for a Kenner demographer; and other miscellaneous amounts.

The council’s invoice lists 118 attorney hours; 184 for the Kenner demographer; and other various costs.

The lawsuit, filed in August 2002, was penned by residents who claimed the current redistricting plan was discriminatory.

At that time, they stated that this plan, “would dilute their voting strength and deny them civil rights granted under the Constitution and the laws of the country”, according to the lawsuit.

Once the school board had voted to approve the redistricting design, it was presented to a federal judge.

During that same time, school board elections were put on hold, with the U.S. Justice Department questioning the board about the lawsuit.

The plan was finalized just as the scheduled qualifying time (for school board elections) was at hand.

The lawsuit was settled in U.S. District court in New Orleans last summer, and the school board and council agreed to pay the reasonable costs involved in the decision.

The key word in the dispute is ‘reasonable’ when it comes to defining plantiffs costs.

The bill seems to be quite a bit more than either the school board or the council expected to pay. And both are going to focus on all components of the bill, as they discuss their responsibilities regarding the charges.

“The council will meet with our attorney in executive session (to discuss the bill),” said St. John Parish Chief Financial officer Jeff Clement. “Once there is more information available, it will be discussed at the public meeting.”

The next meeting of the St. John Parish Council is scheduled at 6:30 p.m., Monday, Jan. 12 at the Courthouse in Edgard.

The St. John Parish School Board will meet at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan.15 at the West St. John Elementary School in Edgard.