Documents obtained by the Times list billings to the Terrebonne Parish Government for nearly $100,000 over 4 years in legal fees regarding coastal erosion litigation. Those billings come even as the Parish President remains adamant that he does not seek legal action against oil companies.
Hebert and Marceaux, LLC, billed the TPCG $94,541.80 in fees between March 2016 and March 2019. The total cost in attorney hours is $92,234.05 split among 5 attorneys. Parish President Gordon Dove said this was for running coastal use permits and all within the Parish's allocated budget.
"We have to review these permits," said Dove. "It's not a choice of Terrebonne Parish."
11 other Louisiana Parishes have 23 coastal lawsuits against 47 oil companies. According to Dove, plaintiffs in these cases alleged coastal permit use violations, and this prompted the review.
The Times received the bills through records request. Initially, the request was denied, but documents were later sent after seeking an outside opinion on the situation.
Largely redacted, the invoices show $92,234.05 billed by Hebert and Marceaux LLC is divided among the 5 attorneys: Jules P. Hebert, Brian J. Marceaux, Craig Landry, Michelle Neil, and someone with the initials JD.
The rest of the billings were for miscellaneous costs involving printed papers, postage, and one expert consultant for the amount of $500.
Each year the Parish President proposes a budget to the Council, who then decides whether to ratify it. The Parish President has a wide range of freedom in how he, or she, can use these funds - only seeking council approval if the budget will be surpassed, or when entering a contract exceeding $30,000.
This has led some to question if they're getting what is paid for.
"Attorney costs are a sore subject," said councilman Gerald Michel. "Mr. Hebert is doing a great job representing Dove, but not me as a council member, or in fact the parish."
Michel said that after the lawsuit Dove filed against the District Attorney over coastal damage evaluations, he didn't expect this, it showed Dove was taking some action.
Reviewing the permits, Michel explained, was the first step, and if a violation was found an investigation could be done to decide who was at fault. If the permit was followed, responsibility was with the parish; however, if violated, responsibility is with that party.
Another council member, Darrin Guidry, said he was interested in the results of these reviews. He expressed concern that the lawsuits currently in progress were hurting the economy and that the Dove's efforts could put the cases to rest.
"I would like to see what progress has been made," said Guidry. "I'd ask him to brief the council in the next executive session."
According to Dove, 8,500 coastal use permits were issued since 1980, when they began. He estimated that his team has reviewed around a 1/4th of them, "we have not found any substantial violations," he said.
Asked if any information could arise to prompt legal action, Dove said he would not answer a hypothetical.
The state of Louisiana is currently evaluating the coasts to understand what extent, if any, the oil and gas companies caused damage. For this, District Attorney Joe Waitz Jr. Was tasked with assigning people to carry out the assessment.
In response, Dove filed a lawsuit alleging that according to LA-RS 42:261 only the Parish President can assign people for such a task.
"The DA does not handle civil cases as per our Houma charter, but then there was even a statute done excluding the DA from civil cases."
Waitz said he has continued his task unimpeded.