Board pays Cavalier attorney fees after ethics 'acquittal'

Deidre Cruse, Governmental Reporter

The Iberville Parish School Board last week agreed to pay more than $1,000 in legal fees Chief Academic Officer Elvis J. Cavalier incurred during a Louisiana Board of Ethics investigation of his son's employment with the school system.

After a secret investigation, the ethics board closed the file on allegations that Cavalier had participated in transactions with the school system in which his son, Tad, had a substantial economic interest. The letter, marked confidential, was included in the press packet distributed at the School Board meeting.

“The Board found your only participation in connection with your son's employment with the school system occurred when you verified his time in connection with his services for the maintenance department,” Alesia M. Ardoin wrote Cavalier on behalf of the ethic panel. “The Board declines to take any further action in this matter and has instructed the staff to close the file in which matter.”

Cavalier had hired attorney Robert L. Hammonds, who represents the School Board, to represent him in the case. Hammonds advised Cavalier he had the right to seek reimbursement of $1,143 in attorney's fees.

“Since you and your son have been 'acquitted' of these violations, you have the right to seek reimbursement of your reasonable attorney's fees from the School Board,” Hammonds wrote. “...We should point out that it is discretionary with the School Board as to whether it chooses to cover such expenses. If he Iberville Parish School Board should decide not to reimburse these costs, then hey would be the responsibility of your son and yourself.”

Superintendent P. Edward Cancienne Jr., who brought Cavalier with him to the school system, said Cavalier had done nothing improper and recommended the board pay the fees.

“Whoever filed the ethics charge should pay for it,” said Board Member Brian S. Willis of Plaquemine. “It shouldn't be the taxpayer.”

“We don't know who filed the complaint,” Board Member Dorothy R. Sansoni of Plaquemine said, also objecting.

Board Member Darlene Ourso of White Castle said the board should not be obligated to “foot the bill” for anyone who comes before the board who hires an attorney.

Since the ethics board cited no wrongdoing “that means he didn't need a lawyer, Ourso argued.

“I don't think we should be obligated to pay the attorney's fees because where does it stop?” Ourso said.

“The man is doing his job, and somebody files a complaint with the ethics board,” Board Member David “Worm” Daigle said, backing Cavalier's request.

“I cannot believe the hypocrisy on Ms. Sansoni's part,” said Board Member Tom Delahaye of Plaquemine. He claimed Sansoni ran up thousands of dollars in legal fees when she sued him for calling her a racist during a school boar meeting. (The suit was later dropped.)