Three former presidents of the Lake Charles Port Board and four current board members resolved their legal disputes surrounding the election of a new board president, following a hearing on Monday in the 14th Judicial District Court.
Judge David Ritchie stipulated that the election of officers during the board's Aug. 26 meeting violated the open meetings law and should be nullified. He also dismissed a temporary restraining order that prohibited any further port board meetings until the court hearing, adding that proper notice wasn't given.
Wade Shaddock, Walt Sanchez and John LeBlanc filed a lawsuit on Aug. 28 against Carl Krielow, Thomas Lorenzi, David Darbone and Michael Prudhomme. It alleged that their election of Darbone as president violated open meetings law because there wasn't unanimous consent from the board to add the item to the agenda.
Two port attorneys cautioned against amending the agenda without full board consent, according to the lawsuit. However, Krielow, Darbone, Lorenzi and Prudhomme voted to elect Darbone as board president, while Elcie Guillory, Michael Eason and Dudley Dixon opposed it.
Guillory was the board's acting president and was slated to be the board's next president. LeBlanc, the board's former president, saw his four-year term expire Aug. 1 and was not reappointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards. Instead, Edwards appointed Prudhomme.
Along with the lawsuit, Ritchie signed a temporary restraining order that prevented any further port board meetings until a court hearing was held to determine the legality of the election.
Tom Filo, an attorney for Krielow, said one day after the Aug. 26 meeting, port attorneys recommended the commissioners hold a special meeting to resolve the issues surrounding the election of officers, along with ratifying other resolutions and contracts. However, the temporary restraining order blocked any further board action.
Filo said the temporary restraining order was improperly filed because the four current port board members weren't notified. He said the resolution gives port board members "a clean slate" to correct any issues stemming from the August meeting.
"I think it's a good outcome," he said. "I think (Ritchie) thought it was a good outcome for the public, the commissioners, the port. The port has to be able to conduct their business."
Ritchie said he appreciated both parties meeting before the hearing to work through their legal disputes.
"This matter ends now," he said.
After the hearing, Sanchez said the public should pay attention to future port board action.
"The actions of this board over the next several years are going to affect the future of everyone in Southwest Louisiana," he said. "The port needs to be held accountable. People need to know what's going on at that operation."
All attorney fees and fines related to the legal disputes were waived.
The port board's next scheduled meeting is Sept. 23. No other meetings have been scheduled before that.