Funding Dispute Between St. Tammany Parish Government and North Shore DA in Court | A Tammany
A showdown over how much money St. Tammany Parish must provide for the criminal charges will come to court this week, when a judge ad hoc hears arguments over whether the parish is legally obligated to respond to the budget request from 22nd Judicial District Attorney Warren Montgomery.
Montgomery sued the parish in May, days after his bid to pass a sales tax for criminal prosecution failed at the polls. This followed four previous rejections of sales tax initiatives to fund the district attorney’s office, the court and the parish jail.
Judge ad hoc Paul Bonin will hear the case in the 22nd Judicial District Court beginning Wednesday.
The lawsuit argues that state law requires the parish to fund its statutory obligations before anything else, but the parish did not use excess revenue from previous years or any of the $51 million in stimulus money. she received from the US bailout to fund the district. lawyer’s office.
The 2022 budget, which the parish passed in December, provided $3.1 million, less than half of the $6.4 million Montgomery had requested for the criminal side of the office. The Civil Division, which provides legal services to parish government, received a less drastic cut.
In his lawsuit, Montgomery’s office argues he is seeking more money in 2022 in part because of a large backlog of cases caused by COVID-19 shutdowns that have halted jury trials for more than ‘a year. His criminal role will double in size this year, he said.
The legal issue at the heart of the lawsuit, according to court documents, is whether funding the criminal prosecution is a mandatory or discretionary duty of the parish government.
The plaintiff says it is mandatory and the judge can order the parish to comply. But the parish government, in its documents, says the district attorney’s budget includes “absolutely discretionary” items, making the trial inappropriate.
District attorney’s budget request goes beyond what state law requires and beyond what is reasonable, parish argues, pointing to court-determined standard in dispute over budget cuts which Montgomery’s predecessor, Walter Reed, won against Washington Parish in 1986.
Examples of overspending, according to the parish, include the district attorney’s request for money for raises, cost-of-living adjustments and increased staffing. The request also asks for money for health care for dependents, even though the parish does not give it to its own employees and has not granted raises during the pandemic and at times has frozen. the hires.
Pressure on the parish?
The request puts a strain on the parish’s general fund, which “cannot support the full list of plaintiff’s wishes”, the parish argues. Additionally, the district attorney’s office is just one of many agencies the parish is required by state law to fund, and the state does not prioritize them.
The parish argues that state law also allows the 22nd Judicial District to use criminal court funds as a source of revenue to pay the salaries of assistant district attorneys, which not all districts are allowed to do. .
Parish also argues that Washington Parish should have been included as a defendant in the lawsuit because it is part of the 22nd Judicial District, along with St. Tammany.
The legal battle marks the second time Montgomery, serving his second term, has sued the parish. He did so in 2016 over who controlled St. Tammany Parish’s legal counsel, ultimately prevailing in the state Supreme Court.