I-Team takes close look at checks to attorneys paid by city of P - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

I-Team takes close look at checks to attorneys paid by city of Port Allen

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Port Allen Mayor Deedy Slaughter Port Allen Mayor Deedy Slaughter

Port Allen Mayor Deedy Slaughter said she's not violating any laws; but some council members say she is. Legal fees have cost Port Allen taxpayers nearly $11,000 since May. It has been learned one check was written after a judge's ruling.

On June 12, in a heated meeting of the Port Allen City Council, a controversial resolution was passed three to one, with Ray Helen Lawrence abstaining. It said Slaughter should stop using city money to pay for her legal bills unless approved by the majority of the council. The minutes from that meeting show Slaughter's quick response to that: "A resolution adopted by the council is not binding on the mayor." It's a position she repeated Thursday afternoon.

"The ordinance would really deem something as being a law," Slaughter said. "A resolution is not a law."

The council members who voted in favor of the resolution took it to court. And on July 2, Judge Alvin Batiste granted their request for a preliminary injunction, prohibiting Slaughter from "paying lawyers with funds belonging to the city of Port Allen." The ruling was signed July 31, 2013.

"It's my understanding that once a judge verbalizes his ruling, it's law," said Councilman Hugh Riviere, known as 'Hootie.' "It's my understanding that city checks have been written in the meantime to pay her legal fees to her attorney, Ron Johnson."

The I-Team looked through all the checks that have been issued from the city of Port Allen since Slaughter took office and three stood out. The first was on May 23 to the legal firm Phelps Dunbar for $3,461.95. Some council members said that's what led them to pass the June 12 resolution prohibiting the mayor from using city dollars. Phelps Dunbar represented Slaughter before she switched to Johnson as her attorney.

The second check that caught attention was on July 1 to Ronald Johnson in the amount of $4,725. That's three weeks after the council passed the resolution. And the third, another check made out to Johnson for $2,812.50. The date on that one is August 7, which is after Batiste's ruling.

"Are you continuing to pay them or was that the last paycheck?" Chawla asked. "That was the last one," Slaughter answered.

"Money was available for legal fees," said Slaughter. "Was it available for personal use?" Chawla asked. "How could you say that was personal use?" Slaughter questioned. "Is Ron Johnson representing you and was Phelps Dunbar representing you?" Chawla asked. "As the mayor, they're not representing me individually," Slaughter responded.

A closer look was taken at copies of those checks. On the first one to Phelps Dunbark, there were two signatures on the check - Mayor Deedy Slaughter and Mayor Pro-tem Ray Helen Lawrence. The next check, however, only has Slaughter's signature. But, the fine print reads, "Two signatures required on all checks." This was the check written out July 1, again. That was after the council passed the resolution.

"Are you violating the judge's ruling?" Chawla asked. "Not to my knowledge," Slaughter answered. "The judge did talk to the lawyers in that room and gave them information that they could receive their payment."

Even though reporters saw Ron Johnson representing Slaughter in court, the I-Team wanted to verify these checks were written for personal counsel to Slaughter. A public records request was made for the invoices both Phelps Dunbar and Ron Johnson billed Slaughter, specifically asking for the number of hours and an explanation of the charges.

The request went to Chief Financial Officer Audrey McCain. She sent us some records, but not the requested invoices. She wrote, "It is my understanding that Mayor Demetric Slaughter is in possession of these invoices and/or billing statement details."

So, the I-Team's request was forwarded to Mayor Slaughter. In about an hour, the mayor sent an e-mail denying the records requested.

"Is it correct that you have these invoices from Phelps Dunbar and Ron Johnson?" Chawla asked. "Yes, I do," Slaughter said. "That information could not be given out," she added. "Why can it not be given out?" Chawla questioned. "It's still under litigation," Slaughter responded.

Riviere said the mayor's claim of an exception under the public records law because of litigation is wrong.

"If public tax dollars are spent, it's a public record. I don't care if it's an ongoing litigation or not. It's public money. The public should have access to everything," he said.

But when it comes to getting those records, the mayor wasn't too pleased that McCain had released some documents. In fact, 50 minutes after the I-Team received the requested records, which included the questionable checks, McCain got an email from Slaughter. It read, "I am asking you not to give any information in regards to the legal check(s). To provide the checks against my directive will be insubordination."

Meanwhile, Slaughter appears to be sticking to her guns.

"So, are you following all the laws?" Chawla asked. "To my knowledge, yes," Slaughter responded.

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