Judge Tess Stromberg ruled that Corey Orgeron’s Petition for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief against Ascension President Clint Cointment “failed to state a cause of action” on Friday, dismissing the petition and awarding Cointment attorney’s fees with Orgeron to bear the court costs. Orgeron filed the petition individually and in his capacity as the District 4 Parish Councilman, purporting to represent ten other council members “similarly situated” to him.
The gist of Orgeron’s claim, that Cointment has prevented him exercising investigatory powers, was “baseless, frivolous, made in bad faith, intentionally defamatory…” Cointment’s attorney urged. Judge Stromberg found that Orgeron’s claims “were not reasonably grounded in Ascension Parish’s Charter” because his solo act could not be deemed to be on behalf of the governing authority. Orgeron initially claimed that Cointment has:
“…intentionally, directly, knowingly, maliciously, overtly and covertly denied Plaintiffs access to investigate the parish affairs and has intentionally impeded Plaintiffs’ efforts to make inquiries into the conduct of various parish departments.” (Note the use of the plural).
The Parish Council, deemed to be “the Governing Authority” in Ascension’s Home Rule Charter, is vested with certain enumerated powers. One of those powers is found in Section 4-12 (d), which authorizes the council to…
“Make investigation of parish affairs and make inquiries into the conduct of any department, office, agency, or special district of the parish, including the investigation of the accounts, records, and transactions of the department, office, agency or special district.”
But it does not empower any single council member to do anything. Judge Stromberg explained that the council/governing authority can take no action at all without a six-vote majority voting to do so. “Mr. Orgeron doesn’t allege that he’s conducting an investigation pursuant to a vote of the Council…(and)…it is obvious that the council must act collectively,” the judge said, assuring Councilman Orgeron that he still might obtain any records sought through a Public Records request.
While she did not say so, the fact that Orgeron leveled numerous derogatory accusations about the parish president in a secondary pleading may very well have played a part in Judge Stromberg’s award of attorney’s fees to Cointment.
“Mr. Orgeron’s shameless allegations of criminal wrongdoing against President Cointemnt, without a shred of proof, could very well be sanctionable,” Diana Tonagel said after besting Orgeron, an attorney himself, only moments before. “Judge Stromberg’s award of attorney’s fees were absolutely justified, especially considering Ascension’s taxpayers are paying the bill.”
That is due to the suit naming Cointment in his capacity as Parish President.
“Not that it matters since the scurrilous allegations would have merited attorney’s fees if President Cointment was paying out of his own pocket,” Tonagel assured.
Cointment answered Orgeron’s petition by asserting several Exceptions as well as a Motion to Strike and for Attorney Fees. Diana Tonagel’s memorandum in support argued:
“The conclusory allegations of the Petition are baseless, are not grounded in reasonable inquiry, fact or existing law, and are not made in good faith, non-frivolous argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law, and Cointment asserts that he is entitled to an award of all costs and attorney’s fees incurred in defending the suit imposed for an improper purpose.
In his responsive pleading Orgeron ramped up the rhetoric in a shameless attack which included the following.
- The purpose of the filing of this litigation was to protect the citizens of Ascension Parish from a vile and corrupt Parish President.
- Cointment expends extreme energy to hide the actions of he and his administration.
- Cointment’s entire agenda has been to seek and destroy any one (sic) that opposes his tyrannical rule.
- At first, it was thought that this behavior was merely an example of a textbook “Napoleon Complex”; however, after the discovery of recent events, there appears to be a more sinister plan to enrich certain elitists (sic) members of the community.
- It is necessary for the governing authority to exercise their authority and duly watch over the actions of the Parish President and the parish bureaucracy when it was learned that the Parish President misled the governing authority while he placed valuable dirt on the property of another councilman’s family while providing weeks of heavy equipment work spreading and manicuring said property.
- Cointment is usurping authority not granted to him under the Charter, while denying the governing authority access to parish records.
- Had Orgeron been granted unimpeded access to Cointment’s actions regarding the New River dredging project, he may have had the opportunity to oppose the violations the State Ethics regulations prior to the transfer of tens of thousands of dollars of valuable parish assets and resources.
- Cointment must cease with his acts of nepotism and favoritism.
- Cointment’s actions are an afront (sic) to the citizens in those districts represented by anyone that fails to hold Cointment on an undeserving pedestal.
- Cointment grants free access to certain council members while instructing his subordinates to withhold information from others.
And he was late filing the pleading which Judge Stromberg ordered stricken from the record (but not before we captured it).
The hearing to determine how much Corey Orgeron owes in attorney’s fees is set for October 19.