Council, Cooper at odds over lawyer in developer lawsuit | One Tammany

First the St. Tammany Parish Council launched an investigation of the parish president. Then the council hired a lawyer. Now, the north shore district attorney is seeking to force the council to fire the lawyer it hired to investigate Parish President Mike Cooper. 

In a motion filed in the 22nd Judicial District Court in Covington, District Attorney Warren Montgomery’s office is asking Judge William Burris to declare the parish’s contract with Ross Lagarde null and void. The council tapped Lagarde to represent the parish in a developer’s lawsuit seeking to force the parish to allow construction to begin on a 100-unit apartment complex, the Covington Trace Ridge Apartments, off Military Road, just outside the Covington city limits.

That’s the proposed apartment building that spurred the council’s unprecedented vote to investigate the Cooper administration’s handling of the permitting process for the complex. Council members were angered over what they said was a lack of communication from the Cooper administration about the apartment complex, which has run into a buzzsaw of opposition from area residents.

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Ross F. Lagarde, Metairie Bank and Trust

Montgomery isn’t weighing in on the apartment complex or the simmering tension between the council and Cooper. His position is that it’s the DA’s job to represent the parish in this, and any, litigation.

“The District Attorney’s Office has been selected by the voters of this Parish as legal counsel for Parish Government,” his filing reads. “Mr. Lagarde has not been retained by a written contract executed by the Parish President, and the Parish Council does not have the legal authority to act unilaterally on behalf of St. Tammany Parish Government.”

The motion asks the judge to “disqualify Ross F. Lagarde from any further involvement in this litigation.”

The district attorney is challenging the council’s ability to hire an outside lawyer without the parish president’s sign off. If the judge agrees with the district attorney, the council would need Cooper’s approval to hire a lawyer to investigate his administration.  

Michael Vinsanau, Cooper’s spokesperson, said that because the litigation is ongoing, Cooper’s office couldn’t comment at this time.

Conflict of interest

The council’s rationale for hiring Lagarde is that the district attorney has a conflict of interest in this case. If Montgomery’s office is advising Cooper on an issue in which there’s a conflict between the Parish Council and the parish president, it’s the council’s position that the district attorney can’t represent the interests of the two parties at once.

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District Attorney Warren Montgomery 

And in this case, the council sees itself as opposing the apartment development that Cooper’s administration issued some permits for.

“The council continues to believe that the District Attorney’s Office is unable to represent parish government in this matter,” said Gina Campo, the council administrator. “We have the ability to take the position that outside council is warranted and we did.”

Judge William “Billy” Burris is scheduled to hear the suit next week.

The apartment complex in question, called the Covington Trace Ridge apartments, is a 100-unit development in a part of the parish that already struggles with dense traffic, council members say. A vocal contingent of nearby residents oppose its construction.

The developer, HRI Properties, is proposing a $34 million apartment complex. The Cooper administration has told the council it believes the land’s zoning, a highway commercial designation, allows apartment buildings of 100 rooms or less. 

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