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|Ferriday has 'no legal obligation' to pay Davis' attorney|
In its second opinion on the matter, released to the public last week, the Louisiana Attorney General says the Town of Ferriday has "no legal obligation" to pay a Baton Rouge attorney for services to former Mayor Sammy Davis Jr., who died in 2006.
Although the opinion says the town would break no laws if it paid the attorney, the AG's office said it would be fiscally irresponsible for the town to do so without an itemized bill, which the attorney refuses to provide.
Now the town's finance committee is reviewing the matter after two aldermen -- Elijah Banks and Gloria Lloyd -- said they want to pay the bill. Banks offered a motion to do so at the council's regular meeting last week. Lloyd seconded the motion, but aldermen Johnnie Brown, Jerome Harris and Somer Lance rejected it.
Dennis Webber, the attorney who represented Davis, originally asked for $129,646.08 and later indicated he would accept half that amount.
On March 11, 2009, the attorney general's office said Ferriday "is not required to, reimburse the former mayor for legal expenses he incurred defending criminal charges brought against him as a result of the performance of his official duties, and of which he was found not guilty. We further opined that should the town council exercise its discretion to reimburse the former mayor's legal expenses, the town council would have to determine that the expenses were reasonable and necessary."
Davis was indicted in 1990 on three counts of malfeasance in office and one count of injuring public records. The state Supreme Court overturned the conviction on a technicality. In 1994, the state refused to pay his attorney fees.
In an opinion dated June 5, 2009, the AG's office responded to a second letter from the town on the matter in which the town noted:
• Davis is now deceased and "an estate has not been opened."
• Davis' attorney will not disclose the terms "of any agreement he may have had with Mr. Davis, including itemized billing, whether any retainer fee was paid, and whether the attorney has received any payment on the outstanding bill."
• Payment "of these legal fees would exceed the Town's ability to pay other bills which the Town is obligated to pay."
• Only the "former mayor benefited from the attorney's services."
According to the second AG opinion issued to the town:
"None of the facts you have presented in your opinion request would cause us to reach a different conclusion than the one we reached" earlier, noting that when "a local public official has been the subject of a prosecution of criminal charges arising out of the performance of the official functions of his office, and the prosecution results in an acquittal or dismissal, the public official's legal fees may be paid or reimbursed from public funds, provided the legal fees and expenses are reasonable and necessary."
But the AG opinion reemphasized "that the Town is under no legal obligation to pay this legal bill." While the opinion says the town may pay the bill, it adds that the town would be fiscally irresponsible in paying it without knowing the facts.
The opinion notes: "The prescriptive period to enforce this debt accrued long ago...Paying discretionary bills which are not legally enforceable before paying the Town's current bills is not being fiscally responsible. Likewise, paying a legal bill without having a copy of the bill is not being fiscally responsible because without that documentation, the town council cannot determine that the fees charged and time spent on the case by the attorney were reasonable and necessary."
The AG concluded that it "is the opinion of this office that the Town of Ferriday has complete discretion to decide whether to pay the legal fees incurred by the former mayor in successfully defending criminal charges brought against him as a result of carrying out the official duties of his office. If the Town decides to pay the legal expenses with public funds, such payment would not violate La. Const. art. VII, Sec. 14(A)."
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