Recently, at my request, the St. Tammany Parish School Board and the parish’s two public hospitals have passed resolutions stating that the District Attorney’s Office no longer serves as their legal representative. The Parish Council’s home rule charter review committee on Thursday (April 2) will propose an amendment to the full council—again with my support—that would allow Parish President Pat Brister to hire her own attorney, instead of relying on the District Attorney’s Office as her legal counsel.
I applaud these moves because they help to distance the District Attorney’s Office from politics and enable me to focus more intensely on the justice system. My election was a clear mandate from the people that they want change, that they want a justice system focused on justice, not politics. This is a move in the right direction.
So, why then, did I propose to the charter review committee that the District Attorney’s Office remain as the Parish Council’s legal representation? Was it a grab for power? Absolutely not! I am willingly relinquishing any power or influence that may come with service as the legal representative for the Parish President, School Board, hospitals and various other public bodies and agencies. But, unlike the Parish President (and even the school system and hospitals), the Parish Council has 14 different members with differing political ideologies and influences and shared authority. Without a full-time manager to oversee its legal affairs, the council—and thereby, the people—would be better served with the District Attorney as the council’s legal representative. In this case, the District Attorney’s Office would be able to offer independent, impartial legal advice.
Thus, it stands to reason that if the District Attorney’s Office were to serve as the Parish Council’s legal adviser, we should be responsible for hiring outside counsel at times when special assistance is needed for technical areas of the law. Again, the District Attorney’s Office would be able to make such a decision based on what is most sound legally, not politically. Some members of the council disagree, and the charter committee voted against recommending my proposal to the council. It is an honest difference of opinions. The full council eventually will decide which recommendation to put on the ballot. Ultimately, though, the people will decide what is in their best interest. I trust them to make the right decision.