In March the law firm of Hammonds & Sills officially became the interim general counsel for the Lafayette Parish School Board, and with that transition, the cost of the school system’s monthly legal fees more than tripled.
|Photo by Robin May|
|"That's a whole lot more than we've ever paid before, and I don't see that figure dropping," says Superintendent Pat Cooper of the school system's recent jump in legal fees.|
The school system’s general legal counsel services had traditionally been handled by the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s Office free of charge, with the system contracting out various law firms, including Hammonds & Sills, for additional legal needs.
In 2013, the total cost of those additional legal services came in at $94,000, on par with the amount paid by the school system in recent years.
That, however, is set to change following the board’s decision to fire the district attorney’s office after Assistant DA Roger Hamilton sent the state Attorney General’s Office a letter stating that an investigation of the superintendent was unwarranted.
With the DA’s office out, the board voted earlier this year to hire Hammonds & Sills as its interim general counsel as it searches for a permanent general counsel.
According to invoices obtained by The IND in a public records request, Hammonds & Sills’ transition to interim general counsel will be costly.
Before its tenure as interim general counsel, Hammonds & Sills, on average, was costing the school system about $4,000/month.
Yet, with Hammonds & Sills transition to interim general counsel in March, the firm's monthly invoice skyrocketed, jumping from February’s invoice of $4,005.86 to $17,979.40 in March.
And unless the board were to revert back to the DA’s office as its legal counsel, that price increase is here to stay, says Superintendent Pat Cooper.
“That’s a whole lot more than we’ve ever paid before, and I don’t see that figure dropping,” says Cooper.
Projections show that the school system will now pay more than $186,000 this year just for its legal counsel, and that’s not including the estimated $50,000 the board will soon be paying for its investigation of Cooper, which brings the total well beyond the $230,000 mark.
Also problematic, according to Cooper, is that the school board has not set a deadline for when it will make a selection of a permanent general counsel, which means Hammonds & Sills could potentially serve in an interim capacity indefinitely.
Below is a breakdown of the invoices submitted by Hammonds & Sills between October and March:
• October — $8,171.70 / 50.9 hours
• November — $5,280.78 / 30.6 hours
• December — $3,256.26 / 19.7 hours
• January — $2,315.00 / 13.60 hours
• February — $4,005.86 / 32.20 hours
• March — $17,979.40 / 120.6 hours