By KEVIN CHIRI
Tammany news bureau
COVINGTON – A battle between the St. Tammany Parish Council and District Attorney Warren Montgomery is still not over even after a First Circuit Court of Appeals judge ruled in favor of the parish being allowed to hire their own legal counsel.
Montgomery became the new D.A. for the 22nd Judicial District in December, 2014 and has had several issues since that time where he has been at odds with the Parish Council or Parish President Pat Brister.
Montgomery has not necessarily been opposed to all of their actions, but since taking office the new D.A. has raised questions about long-standing practices in parish government, insisting he is following the law as he sees it.
Former District Attorney Walter Reed had been in office over 20 years and generally allowed the parish government to operate as they saw fit.
Those differences have led to Montgomery suing the parish or seeking state opinions on various issues and this one involved the Parish Council using public money to hire outside legal counsel when they saw any special need, even though Montgomery reads the Home Rule Charter as clearly saying his office should represent them.
The parish president also has used outside legal counsel on various issues, but after Montgomery initially challenged Brister on that matter he decided to allow it. However, he has steadfastly maintained that the Parish Council members should use his office for legal matters.
Montgomery is particularly miffed at the fact the Parish Council took the matter to the voters in 2015 and were told they should not hire their own legal counsel. Early in 2016 they crafted a new ordinance that gave them the right to do that.
Montgomery said he is bothered by the fact the council members went against the will of the people.
“I want to think the people’s vote matters and the Parish council will follow the will of the people,” he said.
Even though the First Circuit Court of Appeals in the state recently ruled in favor of the Parish Government and said they have the right to hire their own legal counsel, Montgomery said he is still considering if he will take the matter to a higher court.
“I am in the process of reviewing the decision and haven’t fully finished it,” he said. “The Bible says there is wisdom in many counsels so I’m taking the right amount of time to review this before deciding if I will appeal.”
Brister said she was happy to see the court ruling and hopes the matter is settled.
“We are extremely happy that the Appellate Court affirmed the earlier District Court decision,” she said. “We were confident this decision would be upheld. We are relieved that this chapter is behind us and delighted that now we will be able to move forward with the work of the people of this great parish.”
Montgomery isn’t quite ready to agree to that and said the parish is spending thousands of dollars unnecessarily by hiring a host of other attorneys.
The D.A. said the parish is spending “about $2 million a year now on legal representation. If our office handled that it would save the parish about $400,000 a year.”
Montgomery said he is only trying to follow what he reads as the letter of the law, one that states clearly his office should represent the parish.
“I believe I would be breaking the law if I don’t follow this through to what I believe is the right thing,” he stated.