Aug. 1, 2013 05:55
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Attorney James Simon, the assistant district attorney appointed by the 15th JDC to provide free-of-charge legal counsel to the Lafayette Parish School Board, has announced his retirement from the DA's office, bringing an end to his stint as counsel for the school board.

Attorney James Simon, the assistant district attorney appointed by the 15th JDC to provide free-of-charge legal counsel to the Lafayette Parish School Board has announced his retirement from the DA's office, bringing an end to his stint as counsel for the school board. 
Photo by Robin May
  James Simon

Though Simon made it clear to The IND earlier this year that he doesn't speak to reporters, Cooper tells us that the official letter of retirement submitted to the DA's office was received by the school system this week.

"It's required by state law; if a school board asks the DA for legal help, the DA has to provide that without charge," Cooper says.

What's odd is that Simon's legal services were only on the table for the board, not the administration, says Cooper, adding the board attorney made that clear from the start of Cooper's tenure as superintendent.

"That's very different from what I've experienced before, but Mr. Simon basically said he was not doing any work for the administration, only for the board," Cooper tells The IND. "It's a very different way of handling things. We should all be on the same team, which is part of the problem here."

So who does represent the administration? It seems that's all at the discretion of the school board, which in addition to the free legal counsel it receives from the DA's office, also has a contract with Hammond & Sills out of Baton Rouge for issues dealing with workers compensation and liability claims.

At the start of his superintendency, Cooper says a law firm out of Monroe was approved by the board to provide the administration legal advice on all the different education reform mandates being handed down from the state and federal levels. That didn't last long, and by November the board pulled its approval and struck funding for the administration to have that outside legal counsel.

From time to time, the board has approved the administration's receiving legal counsel from Hammond & Sills, but for Cooper, that advice doesn't come without the potential for bias. Hammond & Sills, he notes, is paid by the school board, plus it is the law firm that represents the Louisiana School Board Association.

"They're a good attorney group and I like them, but if you're being paid a certain way, by the school boards, well, that's not going to always result in a fair, unbiased opinion," says Cooper.

Cooper's contract stipulates that if he encounters "issues," his legal fees will be covered. Yet in an email sent to the board Friday, Simon, in perhaps what may be his last action as the board's appointed attorney, says based on his and the opinion of Hammond & Sills, the board should vote against Cooper's request for reimbursement for the $6,000 he's already accrued in attorneys' fees due to the board's continued attacks on his administration.

Simon writes:

[I]n regards to Lane Roy's $6,000 bill for advising Dr. Cooper in regards to his contract, Hammonds and Sills agrees with me that Dr. Cooper's contract calls for reimbursement to him for atty fees in defending his position in a lawsuit. There is some language that may, and this is a very long stretch, mean reimbursement to him when there is a clash with the board. I don't believe this will hold water. Not only that, I recall very clearly Dr. Cooper announcing at your last board meeting that he had received NO COMPLAINTS legally from the board in accordance with the language of his contract. If that is so, then why did he need Lane Roy's advice? $250/hr for Roy to sit through your meetings reading papers from his other cases?

The law provides Roy cannot be paid monies by the board without a proper resolution, and according to [Attorney] General limitations. There is an old resolution with Lane Roy, but that one is dead, he no longer represents the board due to his conflict of interest in suing the board and representing Dr. Easton [click here for the back story on Easton] against the board in the past. If he tries to use that resolution, you have the right to bring a complaint with the La. Bar Disciplinary board for his past conflicts. Roy and Dr. Cooper have both agreed that this resolution is not in force any longer. I have advised him to put a resolution together if Mr. Roy wants to be paid without violating the law. The board can vote to pay it or not.

If the board's last regular meeting is any indication of what's to come next week, it appears the public will see another round in the  ongoing Board V. Cooper fight.

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