Ex-school board super takes the stand in trial

Pat Cooper, right, and his attorney, Lane Roy, are pictured at his November 2014 termination hearing before the Lafayette Parish School Board. (Photo: File photo)

Former Lafayette Parish Superintendent Pat Cooper took the witness stand as the trial for his wrongful termination lawsuit began Monday.

Cooper testified for about 20 minutes late Monday morning but didn’t make much headway. District Judge Patrick Michot granted several objections from Shelton Dennis Blunt, the school board’s defense counsel, over Cooper’s testimony.

The only issue Cooper testified on at length was his hiring of attorney Lane Roy soon after he was named superintendent. The board ended up paying Roy more than $5,000 for work he did for Cooper.

Cooper said he wanted to hire Roy because he was named superintendent on a 5-4 board vote.

“I was very concerned that trivial matters might get in the way, because it was such a slim margin,” Cooper said.

He said he spoke with then-board members Shelton Cobb and Mark Babineaux and told them he wanted permission to hire an attorney as part of his contract and that the board should pay for it, unless it dealt with Cooper’s termination.

Blunt objected to Cooper’s testimony, but Michot decided to rule on the objection when court resumes at 1:30 p.m.

Earlier, Michot denied requests from Roy to have state officials testify on Cooper’s behalf.

Roy had asked for State Superintendent John White, state Sen. Elbert Guillory and state Rep. Steve Carter to testify about Louisiana’s Act One law. Cooper frequently cited Act One as the motivation behind many personnel and budgetary decisions.

Blunt said it would be inappropriate and irrelevant for members of the state’s executive and legislative branches “to tell the court what the law is.”

Roy argued that White, as Cooper’s superior, gave him direction regarding his actions. Blunt noted White was never Cooper’s supervisor, and that is a function of the school board.

Roy said Guillory and Carter would testify about the purpose of Act One.

In addition, Michot ruled Cobb could not testify on Cooper’s behalf.

Blunt said Cobb, a staunch Cooper supporter, had opportunities as a board member to speak in support of him. Roy argued Cobb should be allowed to testify because he had not spoken about Cooper in court or at his termination hearing.

Roy and Cooper also made brief mention of the fact Cooper placed five principals on a different salary schedule.

The board found it a violation of board policy and state law and used it as one of the reasons to fire Cooper.

Roy indicated the new Lafayette Parish superintendent performed similar actions, hiring principals and other administrators and establishing their salaries.

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