Old suit comes back to cost city

DERON TALLEY, EDITOR @DeRonTalley

The City of Gonzales was backed down into a corner at its last council meeting when attorney Scott Frazier and client Bart Melancon of Quality design took the podium requesting payment for a judgment from a suit that stemmed from 2006.

Back in 2006 Melancon was working on Jambalaya Park and the work he performed was defected and needed to be reconstructed. However Melancon said the judge ruled his work was not defected and ruled in his favor for a judgment of approximately $51,200.00. The city appealed the judgment and Quality Design appealed because the judge did not award attorney’s fees. Again the city lost, but granted Quality Design attorney’s fees, all according to Frazier.

From that time until early 2013, for about six years Frazier and his client were unsuccessful in collecting the judgment.

“It was a final judgment but we were unable to prevail upon the folks with authority to pay the judgment,” Frazier said. “During that time interest accrued substantially.”

Also during that time, Frazier informed the law changed which now provides as writ of mandamus, meaning “when you have a judgment against a public body, you can obtain from the court a writ of mandamus, which essentially directs the mayor to cut a check and pay the judgment,” according to Frazier.

With that, Frazier and Melancon requested the council vote to order the city to pay the judgment and the attorney’s fees as a “moral obligation.” Frazier and Melancon said City Attorney Ryland Percy had sent a check of the judgment for $82,000, but had a release with it and the amount did not cover attorney’s fees, which they had also been awarded.

Lacombe moved to authorize administration to pay the entire bill submitted by Quality Design Construction as of verification from administration the billing of attorney’s fees. In a 3-2 vote, it passed with Lacombe, Timothy Vessel and Terance Irvin giving the yeas, while Kenneth Matassa and Kirk Boudreaux with nays.

According to Frazier, attorney’s fees are about $41,000. However, Frazier said that because Percy held a claim for the city against his client in attempt to suit, it’s become very expensive.

The city filed a lawsuit several years ago claiming it had warranty claims regarding the park, however Frazier said the city has “never done anything with that suit.”

“If you don’t do anything with a suit after three years it dies,” Frazier said. “Every time we come up on the abandonment period, the city attorney would file something to interrupt that three-year period. I’m here to tell you that nothing has been done in that suit of any substance. In September of this year, the suit will abandon, because nothing has been done since September of 2011. What we would like to see is final closure on this unfortunate situation.”

“If it was a legitimate suit, he would’ve brought us to trial a long time ago,” Frazier said.

Percy said the city continues to have an outstanding warranty claim and he continues to “keep that alive.”

“Quality Design installed defective equipment,” Percy said.

Frazier said there was a trial and Judge Kleibert ruled that his client be awarded. The judge heard the evidence and disagreed “my client had done defective work.”

Frazier said Percy was not awarded attorney’s fees, which was he approximates at $45,000.

“So I don’t appreciate a mischaracterization of what happened,” Frazier said. “The only person who has a right to attorney’s fees is my client.”

Percy said he was trying to save the city money, “but if these guys aren’t happy with that they can do what they want.”

Percy said he could ask to for a trial date at anytime and the city would spend money to push the claim and offset the attorney’s fees, if that’s what “you guys want to do.”

Melancon said he took the recommendation from Glenn Shaheen and Associates, the city’s engineers, and “initially things worked well.”

“Some time later another contractor had been hired to fix the problem and my company was notified we were being held responsible for the expense the city paid to that contractor,” Melancon said. “I’m very ready to defend myself against that lawsuit. I spent $41,000. I’ve got an $82,000 check and if I have to spend another $41,000 to defend my company against this frivolous lawsuit.”

Melancon said the total costs for everything right now are approximately around $160,000 for everything if “I did the math right:”

“About $80,000 in attorney’s fees, $50,000 in principal and another $30,000 in interest you have to pay,” Melancon said.

Councilman Terance Irvin said it’s been 10 years of expenses and he just doesn’t “want this to continue.”

Frazier said the city has paid $43,600 to Ryland to defend a $51,000 judgment.

“That’s the facts,” Frazier said. “It’s going to end up costing the city $165,000. You do owe us and we expect (you all) to pay us.”

Percy said over the last 10 years, he’s averaged less than $35,000 a year in billings for this city and that includes “whatever billings for this case.”

“If (you all) think you can go to Donaldsonville or anywhere else and check attorney’s fees, you won’t find a city attorney for a comparable city anywhere that has charged that little money over that same amount of time,” Percy said. “If (you all) think those are absorbent, you can get better representation at a better price from another attorney, I invite you to do so.”

Irvin said you’re service isn’t being questioned, “I promise.”