Initially set for April 24, a May 28 Summary Judgment hearing is scheduled between Ascension Parish Government (APG) and Berkley Insurance Company. At issue is the existence coverage for reimbursement of former parish president/felony indictee Kenny Matassa’s criminal legal fees. Matassa was acquitted of bribery on July 11, 2018 after being accused of bribing a Gonzales City Council candidate in July of 2016.
$231,829 incurred by Matassa having already been reimbursed by the outgoing Parish Council on December 5, 2019, it is APG and the taxpayers who fund it left holding the bag. With Matassa effectively out of the suit, APG is asserting the existence of coverage while Berkley takes the opposite view.
APG’s Motion for Summary Judgment was filed on the same day as the Council vote to reimburse, six of its members attending what was thought to be their final meeting after being voted out on October 12. A Special Meeting to vote on a sewer treatment contract would be convened on December 20. APG’s motion and accompanying memorandum assert:
“The issue is whether the failure to report an indictment, which is included in the definition of ‘claim’ in Section B (of the insurance policy) specifically excluded from coverage under Section C, voided coverage for Matassa’s reimbursement claim for failure to timely report.”
Berkley denied coverage because Matassa/APG failed to notify of the potential claim for coverage until October 16, 2018, three months after Matassa’s acquittal but 19 months after his indictment. Berkley contends that the operative policy period was 2017, APG counters that the 2018 period should be applied. Successive policies with Berkley were annually renewed.
Arguing that the duty to file a claim was triggered by the March 10, 2017 indictment (Matassa/APG countered with the July 11, 2018 acquittal), Berkley subsequently filed a Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment, because the policy reads:
“You must see to it that (Berkley is) notified in writing as soon as is practicable once you have knowledge of facts…which may reasonably and subsequently give rise to a claim being made against an insured…For any claims made we are notified in writing as soon as practicable, but in no event later than 60 days after the expiration of this policy.”
None of which gets to the merits of a separate Policy Exclusion:
“The insurance does not apply to any claim alleging, based upon, attributable to any dishonest, fraudulent, criminal or malicious act.”
Additional language potentially excludes coverage if “the insured” was not engaged in the course and scope of his employment.
None of which mattered to last year’s council…
Should Berkley prevail on the issue of coverage, it would be out of the suit along with Matassa. APG would still have Harry Robert Insurance Agency (HRIA), Third Party Administrator at the time, to pursue on the allegation that HRIA breached a duty to timely alert APG of a potential claim. HRIA asserted numerous Affirmative Defenses, among them is that Matassa was not engaged in Ascension Parish business when the alleged bribery occurred. Matassa was recorded offering inducements to Gonzales City Council candidate, Wayne Lawson, to withdraw from the 2016 election.
The current council, on April 16, added another $25,000 in legal fees to pursue the reimbursement claims.