Judge rules for city of Rayne in records suit
crowley - A lawsuit demanding that the city turn over specific paperwork pertaining to the installation of culverts at a home on Second Street was denied after two days of testimony last week.
The suit was filed by Theresa Richard, a self-proclaimed “government accountability activist,” demanding that the city turn over copies of a delivery receipt of culverts that had been delivered to the Rayne City Barn in January, 2016.
Richard contended that the receipts were public record and would indicate who had purchased the culverts.
The city claimed that, since the culverts were not purchased by the city, there is no documentation, thus, no public record.
However, though he denied Richard’s request, 15th Judicial District Judge Patrick Michot stopped short of ruling that the requested paperwork was not, in fact, public record.
“If the city had the tickets, I would have ordered (them released),” Michot said Wednesday evening (May 31) after two days of testimony. “However, evidence shows that the city does not have the tickets, therefore, the mandamus is denied.”
Had Michot granted Richard’s demand, Richard would have been eligible to collect up to $100 per day in fines from the city dating back to her original request for the paperwork in June, 2016.
Through a public records request, Richard was asked that the city turn over copies of a delivery receipt of culverts that had been delivered to the Rayne City Barn in January, 2016.
Those culverts were to be used in the 400 block of Second Street at two houses that had been purchased by Rob-Rob, Inc., a company owned by Mayor Charles “Chuck” Robichaux and his brother. The houses were being refurbished as possible rental properties.
During testimony, it was brought out that, when the culverts — 15 in all — were originally ordered from Doug Ashy Building Materials of Rayne by Peggy King, Mayor Robichaux’s fiancé and operations manager of the company, the order was mistakenly charged to the city of Rayne’s account.
“When I heard, ‘delivered to the Rayne City Barn,’ I just assumed they were for the city,” explained Tracy Carter, the floor salesman at Doug Ashy who took the phoned-in order.
Both Carter and Store Manager Danny Melancon admitted under oath that similar mistakes — charging merchandise to the wrong account — “happens more often than we would like” and that the issuance of a credit memo is the store’s internal bookkeeping method of correcting such a mistake.
It was also noted during testimony, that it is a common practice for citizens to “store” culverts at the city barn to avoid possible theft if they are stacked in the homeowner’s yard.
Also, since the installation and covering of the culverts is a service offered by the city — “as long as they are installed in the city right-of-way,” the mayor added — and that work is done “as time permits,” it is convenient to have the culverts in one area.
Robichaux testified that, immediately upon learning that the culverts had been charged to the city, he corrected Carter, who said he would have a manager (Melancon) change the billing from the city to Rob-Rob.
Subsequently, a credit memo was issued the following morning, removing the charge from the city’s account.
In the meantime, however, three of the culverts — all that were available at the Rayne store — were picked up by Anthony Monroe, city street department employee.
The remainder of the order was to be shipped from the Doug Ashy store in Breaux Bridge.
Monroe testified that, since the installation of culverts for private citizens is “common practice” for the city, he handed that delivery slip over to one of the workers at the house.
The fate of the delivery slip for the rest of the order that was delivered to the city barn, as had been recommended by Street Supervisor Robert “Foot” Senegal, is unknown.
City Clerk Annette Cutrera testified that it was never turned in to anyone at city hall.
“We have no purchase order for any culverts, no invoice for any culverts and no delivery slip for any culverts,” Cutrera said.
She added during subsequent testimony that a “thorough search” for any documentation concerning the purchase of those culverts was conducted three time, each time with the same result.
“It is not common practice for us to hold on to any kind of paperwork that does not directly pertain to the city,” she explained.
Asked directly if she would have turned over the requested documents if she had them, Cutrera answered, “Certainly.”
In a related lawsuit, Cutrera had counter-sued Richard on behalf of herself, the city of Rayne and “other, unnamed officials,” claiming defamation related to a number of posts on the “Eyes on Rayne” Facebook page.
Michot ruled that Cutrera had no legal standing to file such a lawsuit and that a city cannot be defamed.
Cutrera’s lawsuit was dismissed.
With each “side” claiming victory in one lawsuit, Michot instructed the attorneys to submit briefs pertaining to the assignment of legal fee responsibilities.