LPSB attorneys seek to stop testimony in Cooper suit

Then-Lafayette Parish Superintendent Pat Cooper listens to testimony during his termination hearing in November 2014. The school board fired Cooper, who has since filed a wrongful termination lawsuit. (Photo: File photo)

Attorneys for the Lafayette Parish School Board are seeking to stop three state officials and one former board member from testifying at the upcoming trial for former Superintendent Pat Cooper’s wrongful termination case.

Last month, Cooper’s attorney, Lane Roy, filed court documents announcing his intent to call several witnesses at the trial, which is scheduled to begin Sept. 21. The proposed witnesses include State Education Superintendent John White, State Sen. Elbert Guillory and State Rep. Steve Carter.

According to court documents filed last week by attorney Shelton Blunt, the witnesses are expected to testify about the state’s Act One law, which outlined responsibilities of superintendents and board members. Disagreements over that law, and particularly who should handle budgetary and personnel matters, made up a large part of the strife between Cooper and the board.

“In other words, Cooper wants to call witnesses from the legislative and executive branches of state government, and have those witnesses tell the Court how to interpret the law,” Blunt’s memo read.

Blunt goes on to argue that the testimony would duplicate statements made at Cooper’s termination hearing before the school board last November. The board ultimately fired Cooper on a 7-2 vote after accepting four of five charges against him. Those charges alleged violations of board policy and/or state law.

“If Cooper wants to make legal arguments about what Act 1 means, he is free to do that, and the Court can consider those arguments in its ruling,” Blunt wrote. “But the interpretation of a statute is an issue is one of law (sic), not fact, and thus cannot be proven through testimony.”

White’s testimony would be irrelevant, Blunt argues, since his role is to implement educational policies and programs as set forth by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Act One deals with no such policies or programs, Blunt wrote.

In addition, Blunt is asking that former board member Shelton Cobb not be allowed to testify. While on the board, Cobb was one of Cooper’s strongest supporters, and voted against his termination. Blunt wrote that Cobb had opportunities to testify on Cooper’s behalf during court hearings last year, as well as the termination hearing.

“Any comments made by Cobb will be present in the transcript of the termination hearing,” Blunt wrote.

Blunt also asks that Cooper not testify on his own behalf. Cooper was a witness at the termination hearing and previous court proceedings. Roy’s memo noted that Cooper planned to speak, in part, about issues and events that took place after his firing.

“Cooper does not suggest in his witness list how a third bite at the apple by Cooper is not duplicative of prior proceedings,” Blunt wrote.

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