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Leesville officials: Outstanding public records request filled, suit negotiations underway

BY ELONA WESTON
LEESVILLE -- Leesville city officials say a nearly two-year-old, outstanding public records request has been filled, but is still the subject of pending litigation against the city.

Tiffany A. Baker submitted a public records request to the Leesville Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board and to the City of Leesville on July 26, 2012. She never received the records.

Baker filed a lawsuit in state district court in November 2012 over the request, and the judge ruled in favor of the city.

Baker appealed the trial court judgment rejecting her claim for associated penalties and attorney fees to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal.

In November 2013, the higher court affirmed the trial court's judgment with respect to the board, but reversed the judgment with respect to the city, ruling in favor of Baker. She was awarded attorney fees and statutory penalties, totaling around $3,500.

The court also ruled that there be a civil penalty of $25 per day, exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays and legal public holidays, to run from July 26, 2012 until the City of Leesville complies with the public records request.

"It (the city) took no action to comply or respond. Ninety-nine days later, when Ms. Baker filed her Nov. 2, 2012 mandamus action, the City still had not responded in any way. Twenty-seven days after the filing of the mandamus action, the rule to show cause hearing was held, at which time the City still had not responded. Its defense at the trial on the rule was that it assumed everything would be taken care of by the Board and that, in any event, if Ms. Baker wanted to inspect and copy the documents, she could come to the City's office and do so. In other words, the City simply ignored the law pertaining to a citizen's access to public records. We find the inaction on the part of the City to be unreasonable and arbitrary," the 3rd Circuit opinion states.

The Louisiana Supreme Court, in February of this year, denied a writ application filed by the city in the case.

City Attorney Chuck Dowden, last week, told the West Central News Center that the records have since been supplied to Baker's attorney.

"The information has been provided," he said.

Dowden said negotiations are currently underway between the city and Baker's attorney.

"The city and Baker are attempting to negotiate a settlement of the penalty provision of the court judgment. The attorney fees are set out as well," Dowden said.

Dowden said he did not know why the request was not filled in 2012. State public records law outlines a timeline for requests to be fulfilled.

"That was a decision made by the prior administration," he said.

The West Central News Center submitted a public records request regarding Baker's request. The city filled the request, which included correspondence between attorneys.

Baker had sought, among other items, minutes from civil service board meetings,  employment-related documents, copies of policies regarding sick leave and meeting agendas. The full list is available HERE.

Baker is represented by attorney Aaron L. Green of Vilar and Elliott in Alexandria.

The city was represented in the litigation by former city attorney, Jack L. Simms Jr. prior to Dowden's appointment this summer.

Attorney Brian D. Cespiva is the civil service board's attorney.
Filed Under :
Topics : Law_Crime
Location : Alexandria
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