Monday, July 13th, 8th JDC Judge Jacque D Derr filed a Petition for Mandamus and Other Relief naming the Winn Parish Police Jury (the Jury) as the defendant.
Jury President, Josh McAllister stated that the Jury was under the impression that the Jury and the judge were still trying to reach an agreement and were surprised to learn the judge had filed the lawsuit. As late as last week, the judge requested to be added to the upcoming monthly Jury meeting agenda, then retracted his request on Friday and filed the lawsuit on Monday, said McAllister.
The lawsuit outlines that the Jury has an obligation and responsibility
to budget, fund, pay all reasonable/necessary expenses for the basic services, housing, supplies, and budget of the court. According to the document obtained by the WPJ, all “reasonable/necessary” costs include the salary of all employees and personnel, providing suitable offices for the judge, judicial employees and personnel including equipment for the preservation of court records and operating expenses and maintenance of the offices of the court and courtroom.
“Even though our legal counsel advised us that legally, we have met our financial obligation to the court, we were still trying to work with the judge to reach a solution. The Jury’s main goal is to be good stewards of the tax payer’s money. We can’t afford to give the additional $18,000 + per month the judge is requesting on top of what is already given to the court. It would put the Jury in a deficit which is illegal for the Jury to do, said McAllister.”
The suit makes claims using phrases like “defendants have budgeted inadequate expenses,” and “the court is inadequately funded and cannot function,” “justice will suffer irreparable harm and damage.”
The WPJ reviewed the Eighth Judicial District Court Judicial Expense Fund – Statement of Revenues and Expenditures page of the Audit Report filed with the Louisiana Legislative Auditor in 2018. The document reflects payroll expenses of $165,687 for the court. In a review of Audit Reports filed by surrounding and similar sized parishes, you find a disparity in personnel costs between other parishes and Winn Parish. Red River, Grant, and LaSalle Parishes all have very minimal and sometimes zero personnel costs outside what the state and their police jury’s provide.
Legal counsel for the Jury, Chris Nevils, stated “while we have seen a copy of the lawsuit, the Jury has not been served. We cannot comment on pending litigation except that it’s unfortunate that it has come to this. As legal counsel to the Jury, I have been able to keep them out of litigation for the 14 years that I have served as district attorney. We will represent the Jury to the best of our ability in this matter.”
According to McAllister, the Jury gave the court $25,000 is emergency funds at the end of last year. The Jury has cut staff at the office, and the barn reduced insurance expenses for the jurors in the current budget and eliminated insurance for jurors entirely in the next term, all to cut costs.
The Jury met with the judge in an open meeting on June 23rd to discuss his request for additional funding. At the end of the session, a recommendation was made to deny the judge’s request. However, a final decision was not made and was to be discussed further at the upcoming Jury meeting on July 20th.
This story is still developing and will be followed by the WPJ.