Judge Samuel McCutcheon Lawrason (1852 – 1924) was a Louisiana lawyer and political figure. Lawrason served as a Senator, Judge, School Board Member and was the Vice President of the Louisiana Constitutional Convention of 1898. While most of us have little knowledge of the life, times, and achievements of Lawrason we are still impacted today by Legislation which bears his name.
In 1898, the Lawrason Act (LARS 33:321) was enacted in Louisiana. Lawrason had set out and was successful at establishing a uniform governmental structure for all municipalities created in Louisiana. Since its passage all municipal corporations derive their structure from the Lawrason Act. Those that were not established under or don’t operate under the Lawrason Act are either governed by a special legislative charter or a home rule charter.
The elected municipal officers of a Lawrason Act municipality include a Mayor and a Board of Alderman (Council), with some municipalities also electing a Police Chief and others having an appointed Chief. Presently in Youngsville we see where the distinction between an elected and an appointed Chief can create all sorts of problems.
YOUNGSVILLE CHIEF OF POLICE
The Chief of Police for the City of Youngsville is an elected official. Pursuant to Louisiana Revised Statute 33:423 the Marshal (Chief of Police) shall have general responsibility for law enforcement in the municipality and shall be charged with the enforcement of all ordinances within the municipality and all applicable state laws. An elected police chief has the inherent power and authority to supervise and control his office, equipment, and personnel on a day-to-day basis.
The Chief of Police for the City of Youngsville, pursuant to Louisiana Revised Statute 33:423.23, also has the power to “appoint, promote, discipline, and dismiss police personnel” subject to local Civil Service rules and oversight. Although directed and supervised by the Chief of Police, officers of the Police Department are employees of the City of Youngsville.
Boudreaux, through his lawyer, filed a Petition for Declaratory Judgment and Injunctive Relief with the District Court on May 3, 2023. In his petition Boudreaux seeks a judgment to enjoin the City of Youngsville from acting in furtherance of Resolutions 2023-08 and 2023-09 and to ultimately declare the resolutions null, void, and without effect. Boudreaux, who at the March 30, 2023 City Council Meeting stated he “welcomed any investigation and would cooperate 100%”, seems to have changed his mind. He now asserts in his pleading to stop the investigation that at no time prior to the passage of the resolutions was he “informed of specific allegations warranting any investigation of such breadth and scope.” Boudreaux continues, “the expansive nature of the Resolution would allow the Youngsville City Council through a third-party law firm, to impermissibly investigate, or manage the day-to-day operations of the Youngsville Police Department, while usurping control of the elected Police Chief in violation [of] the Lawrason Act.”
The matter has been assigned to District Judge Kristian Earles of Acadia Parish. According to the order signed by the Court the hearing has been mooted by agreement of Counsel for the parties, so exactly when a hearing will be held remains to be seen.
Last night at the Youngsville City Council meeting the City Council, Mayor, City Attorney and members of the law firm Breazeale Sachse & Wilson, L.L.P. entered into executive session for approximately one hour and twenty minutes to discuss the investigation into Chief Boudreaux. Following the return from executive session the Council voted unanimously to retain attorney Fred Preis and the law firm Breazeale Sachse & Wilson, L.L.P. to conduct the investigation, and allocating $10,000 in funding. City Attorney Wade Trahan then explained that counsel for Chief Boudreaux and he discussed the matter with Judge Earles and had developed a scheduling order. However, that order is absent from the court records.
YOUNGSVILLE CITY COUNCIL
Generally, a Council possesses the legislative and policy making role over a municipality. All too frequently, however, we see that authority handed over to the full-time executives (Mayor and Police Chief). This was a criticism hurled at members of the City of Youngsville Council by Chief Rickey Boudreaux at the March 30, 2023 special meeting. Boudreaux proclaimed to the Council: ‘…You sit up here once a month… collecting mailbox money and have been spoon fed your ordinances by the Mayor and his staff. Not one of you have even attempted to draft one single ordinance, which I will remind you is your job not the Mayor’s. The mayor and his staff have done all the work!’
Being generally empowered to prescribe duties of municipal officers and employees, and to require by ordinance the performance of “other duties” by the chief of police, the Council for the City of Youngsville may exercise their authority over an elected chief of police and police department as long as power of Chief of Police to supervise the operation of the department and assign its personnel and property is not revoked, restricted, or limited.
Recently, Citizens for a New Louisiana broke the story of Brian Baumgardner resigning from the Youngsville Police Civil Service Board citing concerns about retaliation. Baumgardner’s resignation comes a month prior to the Youngsville Police Civil Service Board’s scheduled hearing into the termination of Police Sergeant Justin Ortis. Ortis through his attorney, Allyson Melancon, has indicated that “his termination was not in good faith for cause.” Ortis’ termination is thought by many to be retaliation by Boudreaux following the recent media coverage of Youngsville City Councilman Kayla Reaux’s traffic crash that occurred in November of 2022. A hearing into the matter is pending before the Youngsville Police Civil Service Board.
The entire situation puts the City of Youngsville in a very precarious and potentially a very costly situation. After all, it is the City of Youngsville, or rather the treasury of the taxpayers of the City of Youngsville, which is threatened when employees of the Police Department are subjected to a hostile work environment. More generally, any activity which gives rise to a cause of action by which the City of Youngsville or its elected officials may be sued is cause for concern. Officers may challenge terminations, demotions and other personnel decisions with the Youngsville Police Civil Service Board, but that is not their exclusive remedy. There are a plethora of whistleblower and employment laws which also provide protection to police officers who may suffer injury.
YOUNGSVILLE DOESN’T WANT TRANSPARENCY
Unfortunately, it is not only Boudreaux who seems to have reneged on his promise of transparency but the City of Youngsville as a whole. A series of public records requests submitted to both Chief Boudreaux and Mayor Ritter remained unanswered. When prompted for a reasonable amount of time expected for the records to be made available for review or specific exemptions claimed for not producing the records Chief Boudreaux, Mayor Ritter, the City Attorney and staff have failed to even reply. It is these same “boiler plate” responses which prompted litigation against Lafayette Consolidated Government in February of last year.
One could only wonder what Lawrason would think about the current situation. When faced with substandard elected officials the strategy employed by most today is to either vote the bums out of office or, more rarely, to mount a recall effort. But in Lawranson’s day you could still depend on a disgraced official to have enough integrity to voluntarily resign his position from office before he was run out of town. Kayla Reaux may have at least understood that.