City Attorney ignores Records Law in water scandal, hides behind privilege
SHREVEPORT, La. – The City of Shreveport is caught in a legal battle after failing to reach a compensation agreement for those who allegedly made the City aware of an error in its water billing system.
The Shreveport Times’ Lex Talamo first broke the story, which can be found here. Follow-up articles, including Mayor Ollie Tyler’s response and a letter penned by Scott Pernici are also available.
Shreveport businessman Scott Pernici and Michael Wainwright, an attorney and former Shreveport resident, have sued the City of Shreveport for damages, injunctive relief and attorney fees. This comes after they allegedly discovered the City’s error and brought it to their attention. In exchange for the information, Pernici and Wainwright had City employees made aware of the information sign non-disclosure agreements prior to hearing it.
In addition, Pernici and Wainwright, whose information was vetted by Justin Haydel and Manchac Consulting Group, expected to be paid for their services. The amount was never agreed upon. The plaintiffs argue that City employees broke confidentiality agreements by sharing the information with others and correcting the billing errors without informing those who made the discovery.
The lawsuit, which was sent from Wainwright to Elliott Stonecipher, is available in PDF form here.
On Oct. 17, Real Shreveport sent public records requests to the City of Shreveport for information relative to the water billing mistake. The request was for the following public documents:
1) Any and all emails or communication sent to and from city employees in reference to the water billing error for the City of Shreveport.
2) Any and all written correspondence or communication sent to and from city employees regarding the water billing error.
3) Any and all Non-Disclosure agreements signed by city employees in reference to the water billing error.
The request, which was sent to City Attorney William Bradford, was ignored until this morning.
Despite the initial public records request, a call to City Attorney Bradford from our lawyer and a second request for the same information after the first received no response, the records have not been turned over at this point.
Today, City Attorney Bradford responded with the following email:
I apologize for the delay in responding to your public records request. This matter is currently in litigation and under investigation by the Department of Justice. Therefore your request has been sent to our attorney of record, Julie Lafargue, for appropriate response. She will be in contact with you today. The request made by you has yielded several responsive documents that will require review for attorney-client privilege and other legal exceptions. I assure you that the City’s actions are not intended to delay our response and a reply will be submitted to you, with appropriate invoicing, within a reasonable time frame. In the interim should you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact Ms. Lafargue.
William C. Bradford, Jr.
505 Travis Street
Shreveport, Louisiana 71101
The argument City Attorney Bradford is making is that the requests have not been met because of attorney-client privilege, however, this does not excuse the fact that the law was broken when the City did not respond to the request within the designated time frame.
Awaiting contact from Ms. Lafargue, there is still nothing to show for the public records request for information regarding the role of city employees in the water billing error, if any, or their knowledge thereof.
Lafargue is a partner at Abrams & Lafargue Law Firm whose partner, Reginald Abrams, represents Caddo Parish School Board. The School Board has also failed to produce public documents on several occasions.
Earlier versions of this story incorrectly stated the public records request was sent on Oct. 14. The request was sent to the City of Shreveport on Oct. 17.