In March of 2015 Elliott Stonecipher filed his much ballyhooed suit against the Caddo Parish Commission, all the then elected Commissioners, Parish Administrator Woody Wilson and Parish Finance Director Erica Bryant.
Stonecipher’s suit requested several rulings by the Court:
a. That none of the Commissioners were ever eligible to participate in the Caddo Parish Employee Retirement System (“CPERS”) and that no further CPERS payments be made by the Parish for the Commissioners.
b. That all CPERS payments made on behalf of the Commissioners by the Parish be repaid, with interest, to the Parish by each Commissioner.
c. That the Commissioners were not entitled to life and health insurance benefits/subsidies from the Parish, travel expenses, cost of living increases in their salaries, or mileage reimbursement and that no further Parish moneys be spent for the same.
d. That all of the Commissioners repay the Parish, with interest, for all insurance subsidies travel expenses, cost of living increases and travel reimbursements that each received.
In his columns, Stonecipher always proclaims that the legal services provided by the Pesnell Firm were contributed pro bono and thus his Don Quixote search to right all the nefarious deeds of the Commission were to be forever commemorated.
So, where does this case now stand after some 30 months and counting?
Well to begin with the litigation has been a major expense to the Parish.
Over $46 grand was paid to defend the action against the individual Commissioners, Wilson and Bryant. All of these were persons dismissed from the suit.
And an additional $132 plus thousand has been expended in litigating all the issues raised against the Commission.
To date, Stonecipher has had little to no success in this litigation. But he likes to complain about the Commission legal expenses--that he caused!
The decisions that have been made thus far are:
a. The district court dismissed all of Mr. Stonecipher’s claims against individual parties and commissioners – this was affirmed on appeal and writs denied.
b. The district court dismissed all claims for mandatory injunctive relief (essentially Mr. Stonecipher sought to collect sums he claimed Commissioners owed the Parish) – this was affirmed and writs denied.
c. The appellate court reversed the district court’s ruling that the Caddo Parish Commission was not an entity that could be sued (as opposed to Caddo Parish, also a defendant). The Commission did not seek writs, so the Commission remains a party.
d. The appellate court reversed the district court’s ruling that Mr. Stonecipher did not have standing for prohibitive injunctive relief (to enjoin the payment of unauthorized benefits). The Commission did not seek writs, so this issue remains before the court.
e. The district court granted a partial summary judgment in favor of the Parish and Commission that reimbursement of travel and mileage was permissible. The Second Circuit found that the district court did not have jurisdiction over those matters because of the other pending appeal, so they remain before the court.
f. The district court denied the Parish’s motion for partial summary judgment that Commissioners participation in health insurance with the Commissioners paying 100% of the premium was permissible. That issue is still before the court because Mr. Stonecipher has not filed any cross-motion for summary judgment or other motion seeking that determination in his favor.
There are four issues still before the court:
a. The validity of Parish contributions to CPERS (which has been discontinued).
b. Whether Commissioners can participate in health insurance program if they pay 100% of the premiums.
c. Whether Commissioners can be reimbursed for out-of-parish travel expenses for Commission-related business.
d. Whether Commissioner can be reimbursed for mileage according to state standards for out-of-parish travel on Commission-related business.
Most legal scholars had doubts, as in very serious doubts, that Stonecipher’s attempts to require repayment of benefits that had already be received by the Commissioners would be successful. And for his other goals, much of the wind was taken out of his sails by Commission votes after the suit was filed.
In January 2016 the current Commission took office. And in their first few meetings they voted to suspend their CPERS payments and subsidized insurance payments. Additionally, substantial reform was made on travel expenses to be paid by the Parish for Commissioners. Stonecipher could have halted his litigation after these votes, but he chose to proceed.
The Parish has lost two straight votes on tax renewals. The first was a few years back with one tax proposition on the ballot. The second proposition had four millages on the ballot. Next year there are additional tax millage renewals that will be on the ballot. Thus, in the current political environment it is very unlikely that the Commission will vote to restore CPERS or subsidized insurance benefits.
What happens next in the litigation is up to Stonecipher. Much like in checkers, its his move next. If he continues to sit quietly, no more court proceedings will follow and thus no more public dollars expended in defending the past actions of the Commission. Lets hope this is his course of action. It’s time to shut this parade down.
Please share all or part of this column with others and to post on Facebook. No requirement to list my name.