“I attempted to resolve this dispute in a peaceful manner,” Montgomery said in response to the ruling. “After the people’s vote on November 21, 2015, I was compelled to ask the Courts for a judicial clarification of the law. Now, the state’s highest court has spoken.”
The legal dispute between the District Attorney and Parish Officials centered on the Parish’s Home Rule Charter (Section 4-03 (A), which says, "The district attorney of the judicial district serving St. Tammany Parish shall serve as legal advisor to the council, president and all departments, offices and agencies and represent the Parish government in legal proceedings.”
Before Montgomery took office, the attorneys representing the Parish President and Parish Council were commissioned as Assistant District Attorneys but were not supervised by the previous District Attorney. After Montgomery’s election in January 2015, he sought to perform his duties as outlined in the Home Rule Charter and re-assert his supervision over the Assistant District Attorneys providing legal services for the Parish. Parish officials objected, arguing that Montgomery’s involvement would infringe on their authority and prerogative.
Parish officials then attempted to change the Home Rule Charter and remove the District Attorney as their legal counsel with an amendment on the ballot during the November 2015 election, but 61 percent of voters rejected the measure. When parish officials still refused to accept the District Attorney as their legal representative, Montgomery filed a lawsuit in April 2016, asking the courts to interpret whether the Parish’s Home Rule Charter obligates and entitles the District Attorney to serve as the legal advisor.
In the meantime, the Parish Council adopted an ordinance on Aug. 4, 2016, giving itself the power to appoint one or more “council attorneys” to serve as legal advisor to the Council. Then, nearly a month later, the Parish Council adopted another ordinance, delineating the duties and responsibilities of each of the Parish’s offices and departments, including a new Legal Department. The new ordinance deleted the reference to the role of the District Attorney as outlined in the Home Rule Charter and granted the Parish President the authority to appoint a full-time “Executive Counsel” to the President and authorized other attorneys in the Legal Department to serve as legal advisors to the Parish.
Under the new ordinance, the District Attorney would represent Parish Government only at the request of Parish officials.
On Sept. 18, 2016, Ad Hoc Judge Marion F. Edwards decided in a 12-page ruling that the Parish acted within its authority when it created its own legal department and that it has the right to hire its own attorneys. The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision in a two-to-one decision, with a dissent written by the Chief Judge of the First Circuit.
Montgomery took his case to the Louisiana Supreme Court, which agreed on Jan. 29, 2018, to hear the case. Under the rules of procedure, the Parish has the right to ask for a re-hearing within 14 days of Thursday’s decision.
Montgomery said the most recent decision has brought final resolution to the case, and he looks forward to working together with Parish Government and the Parish Council on a smooth transition and moving ahead in a positive direction.