Our View: Will anyone be a winner in latest lawsuit?

Published 9:49 pm Sunday, April 14, 2013

If the parties involved were years younger this might be considered nothing more than a mere backyard brawl, the least bloodiest deemed the winner.

But there is nothing childish about Sheriff Randy Seal’s lawsuit against Washington Parish President Richard Thomas, a person he says he respects and calls a friend, and the parish council, who he calls his “seven friends.”

There are adults squaring off in an adult contest, although the winner might still emerge with the least amount of political blood spilled.

Seal is suing his friends because he believes the parish is not adequately funding the sheriff’s office, which he took over in July after serving as assessor.

Thomas and council members say the struggling parish is doing its best to meet the demands of all of its sub agencies as mandated by state law. Seal’s invoices, similar to those of the other agencies, go into the parish’s bill pile, identical to the way a family manages its household.

One can’t spend what one does not have and the harsh reality is the parish is operating on limited funds. A tax measure that would have alleviated this fiscal dilemma was soundly defeated by voters April 6, leaving parish leaders pondering their next move which, as it turns out, will be returning to the voters to ask once again for a tax or millage increase.

Some officials had predicted a lawsuit by one of the agencies if the tax measure failed but none expected it to come this soon. Seal filed his suit Monday morning, not longer after the courthouse doors swung open.

The timing may have been intended to send a message to Thomas and the council but what’s important to comprehend is that no matter the outcome of the suit the parish, and ultimately, we, the residents, lose.

Because of the suit, the parish must spend dollars it does not have to pay for its defense. With officials already mulling cutbacks and layoffs, the defense expenditure will only excabarete a desparate situation.

If Seal should emerge victorious, the victory will certainly be hollow. Even if a judge rules in the sheriff’s favor and orders the parish to pony up, there will likely be insufficient funds to cover all of Seal’s expenses.

Or the parish could be forced to transfer what little money it does have to the sheriff’s office to comply ith the verdict and continue to slash funds from other agencies, which could potentially lead to additional lawsuits.

Even the sheriff himself has some doubts. Asked this past week where he thought the parish would get the money to pay him in the event of victory, the sheriff simply said, “I don’t know.”

Neither does the parish.

Seal’s stated goal is to negotiate a settlement with parish officials and avoid a lawsuit that would certainly include several hearings and motions of discovery. His goal is encouraging and one that possibly could have been attained sans the filing of a game-changing lawsuit.

Acrimony between parties will now be a constant observer whether in the courtroom or the bargaining table. But all sides must put aside their preferences and hammer out an agreement that is best for every resident of Washington Parish and not just a single agency, even one that is charged with protecting the public.

This is one backyard brawl with adult-like complications and ramifications. Unfortunately, the line in the rich soil of Washington Parish has been drawn straight through the judicial system.