Gov't

City Attorney Rightfully Protects Central- Just the Facts

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By Dave Freneaux

    A great deal of controversy has arisen recently over Public Records Requests.  Indeed Louisiana State Law does provide a mechanism for any citizen to ask for and receive a copy of almost all records maintained by the City of Central.  The recent disagreement in the issue is whether ALL records are subject to this Public Records Law.  The Public records law in RS 44:4.1 states "The legislature further recognizes that there exist exceptions, exemptions, and limitations to the laws pertaining to public records".  One such exception is "Attorney-Client Privilege".  Thus, any information relating to discussions between the client, in this case the City of Central, and the attorney, in this case Central's City Attorney, are exempt from Public Records Requests.

    At recent City Council meetings Central's Council voted to waive that attorney-client privilege for certain records requested on July 28th by Mike Mannino.  This is the only circumstance under which the City Attorney would be allowed to release these documents.  As a result, these documents were produced for inspection by Mr. Mannino.

    Eight days ago Woody Jenkins made a public records request for legal bills to the City of Central for July and August, 2010.  The City of Central has provided the requested records, with privileged information blacked out to protect the City under attorney-client privilege, as is appropriate under the Louisiana Public Records Law.  The City has further advised Jenkins that in order to provide privileged information the City Council would have to vote to waive privilege and instruct the City Attorney to release the privileged information.

 

Claim:In a letter delivered to the City of Central on Wednesday Jenkins claims that not providing unredacted legal bills is "contrary to law".

Fact:Louisiana RS44:4.1 recognizes attorney-client privilege as an exception to the Public Records Law, and Central's City Attorney has instructed Jenkins to approach the Council if he is seeking to have the City waive attorney-client privilege.

 

Claim:In the same letter Jenkins claims that protecting attorney-client privilege is a violation of "the direction of the Council".

Fact:  The Central City Council voted to waive privilege on legal bills requested on July 28th by Mike Mannino, not on the latest request by Jenkins.  It would likely be malpractice for the City Attorney to release privileged information without the consent of the client, the City of Central.

9 Comments

  1. Mike Mannino

    November 18, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    Dave,
    I have no doubt that you believe what you print in a “FACT”. I would offer that maybe it is your version of what is factual.

    The State Statute you quote above is certainly a fact, however your interpretaion is not. First, the statute is designed to protect people involve in litigation with a City, not a blanket statute that protects EVERYTHING from public scrutiny. Second, the citizens of Central are Central, therefore we are teh “clients”. I cant imagine that every CIty approaches these type requests in teh way we have. If so, a city would incur extensive legal bills every time someone requested what is rightly their legal ability to request. The mayors own attorney noted at a council meeting that he saw no reason to redact all these bills. Could Ms. Morris’s actions be just a way to soak teh city for extra hours since attornies bill by the hour ? Just sayin……

    • dave

      November 18, 2010 at 10:47 pm

      Mike, I have read, I have discussed with three attorneys in no way connected to this issue, and even two not from Central, and I have watched carefully all that has transpired. I believe what I reported to be true. You raise questions of “don’t you think it could be this or that” but you don’t give any hard evidence contrary to the issues as presented. I am open to more information if you have it.

  2. Ray

    November 18, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    Could Mr Jenkins actons be just a way for the city to be soaked with extra hour attorneys fees? Just sayin…..

  3. Captain Obvious

    November 19, 2010 at 7:37 am

    If anyone is to blame for this situation it is the city council. They had every opportunity to rid the city of Ms. Morris but they decided to keep her on as the city attorney. I applaud Mr. Washingtion and Mr. Lobue for voting to not retain her services. I was very disappointed with Messina voting along with the mayor’s puppets to retain her services.

  4. kyle

    November 19, 2010 at 8:36 am

    Ray: Mr. Jenkins has a proven past of doing the same thing to other government agencies. Now, he’s doing it to Central.

  5. Mike Mannino

    November 19, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Kyle,
    Wrong. Neither I nor Mr Jenkins expected this request to be handled this way. The process should have been clean with all the records presented and available at City Hall and the bulk of the cost borne by me. Dont blame me or Mr Jenkins for the cost to the city because of poor management of this. Maybe you should direct your concerns to the City Council instead of coming up with a ridiculous conspiracy theory.

    • dave

      November 19, 2010 at 1:10 pm

      Mike, and everyone,

      Here is the crux of the issue. When the City receives a Public Records Request, the records should be produced in three business days. (As an aside, I am not here to defend the length of time it took for the City to respond to the July 28th requests, nor am I here to discuss whether the Public Records Law and associated time frames was written in anticipation of a request of that magnitude.) In my understanding and based on my discussions with three attorneys with no dog in this hunt, in order to release any document containing references and/or descriptions of conversations between an attorney and a client, our City attorney would have to go to the client and have the client waive attorney-client privilege. To do so requires a City Council meeting be called, properly advertised, and held. In order to do this in 72 hours it would be a special meeting, and we all know that such meetings cost significant dollars.

      If we all agree (and I think we should, but I am not certain we do) that it is the City Attorney’s job to protect the City, and we are asking to view records that we know will have to have Council approval to be released unredacted, would it not be best to simply ask a Council member to put it on the agenda of the next regularly scheduled meeting, at no cost? The Council could then instruct the City’s staff to release the records. I would hope the Council would still ask the attorney to be sure there were no litigation or confidentiality issues in the billing records. The real issue here is not one of a willingness to produce records, it is in the requirement to do so in accordance with the 72 hour deadline while still requiring the City Attorney to do the job she is paid to do, to protect the City’s legal interests.

      I would further suggest that if I were actually interested in finding out what we spent and what it was for, I would ask a Council member to stop by City Hall, look at the billing record and tell me whether I had any concern. He could also let me know whether money was spent on “redactions”. That should satisfy my “72 hour” need for information, and a patient request brought to Council would ensure that I had all of the paperwork I wanted in the long term. I know this is not nearly as exciting a way to go about this, but it is probably the prudent and responsible approach. If a person can’t find even one Council Member willing to go to bat for them (which I would find odd) THEN, make demands. Otherwise, just ask nicely and the result might surprise you.

      If you choose, take the aggressive and legally allowed path of Public Records Requests, but recognize, as demonstrated in this case, that there will always be a price to pay for expediting the process.

  6. Ray

    November 19, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    Mr Mannino,
    The difference between requesting and demanding information is a valid point brought up by Dave. I actually appreciate and commend you for your efforts in attempting to make city officials accountable for their actions. I’m sure it is not a popular undertaking and consumes much of your time. My problem is how Mr Jenkins sees fit to plaster your every move in his publication, giving the impression, in my eyes, our city officials have something to hide. Freedom of the press also requires responsibility. Why can’t you discreetly do your work and report your findings after completion? I would guess our city publications would welcome a periodic column written by you about your assessments and findings, both positive and negative, of our local government and its officials.

  7. Bebe

    November 22, 2010 at 7:03 am

    Golly, ‘our city’ sure seems to need a lot of ‘protecting’. And it is never the true ‘city’ that is protected.

    Sherri Morris’ letter to the CS was full of vauge, ambigious and contridictartory statements. If she can’t even write a legitimate letter, why do we think she can help run or ‘protect’ a city. Oh, but then again….she certainly doesn’t serve the city as much as she seems to serve herself and those who keep her on the payroll.

    Her continuning increasing costs that consistently put us over budget for her services, and the unnecessary circus performance in the matter of public records, is enough for me to say, enough is enough. We can do much better than all this.

    Maybe its time to bring in an expert from Baton Rouge who runs the publics records there, and ask him, if such a fiasco occurs whenever someone comes into his office and request a public record. Lets go to the people who actually know what they are doing, and follow suit.

    I personally have lost great confidence in Sherri Morris, especially after reading her letter she wrote that the CS published, and I would now prefer to hear from someone else in this matter.

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