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Dec 26, 2011 9:21 AM by AP

Long legal mess over courthouse near end

GONZALES, La. (AP) - The litigation and liens that have held up the expansion and renovation of the parish Courthouse Annex in Gonzales have just about been wrapped up.

Attorneys say that, likely sometime this month, dismissal motions will be filed to formalize agreements settling the last outstanding claims that stretched over 10 years and three parish administrations.

Begun on Oct. 1, 2001, the $6.18 million project added the steel-and-glass wing that houses the four east bank courtrooms, judges' chambers and other offices in the Irma Boulevard facility.

Parish Attorney Jeff Diez told the Advocate (http://bit.ly/s6bpeH ) that a second phase also renovated the former second-floor courtroom space that is now the Parish Council chambers and other space now used by the Sheriff's Office.

Before the expansion, the annex building had one true courtroom, officials said, but judges also had makeshift courtrooms in an office kitchen and a small office space that the council then used for meetings.

Delays by contractor B.F. Carvin Construction Co. Inc. led the council to dismiss the general contractor and forced the parish to take over in August 2004, when the project was close to being finished, council minutes say.

The project was completed in April 2005, but the termination prompted a series of claims and counter-claims in civil suits in the 23rd Judicial District Court involving Carvin, its subcontractors and parish government.

Nearly a dozen liens were placed by contractors, many of them for a few thousand dollars or less, land records show.

"It was just a bad project. It was really a mess," said Diez, who worked on the project and subsequent litigation.

On Dec. 1, the Parish Council settled its liability in the last of the suits by agreeing to pay Coastal Fire Protection LLC $18,708, Diez said.

The payment settles an April 2006 suit seeking to recoup $45,663 in fees that Coastal Fire claims were not paid for work on fire sprinklers.

Judge Ralph Tureau, chief judge of 23rd Judicial District Court, said in an interview earlier this month he was not aware all the claims had been settled.

He said the new courtrooms did have things that needed work after construction, such as courtroom lighting and wiring.

"It's a whole lot better than what we had to start with," Tureau said.

Diez described a lengthy negotiation process complicated because Carvin lost its records in Hurricane Katrina and drawn-out litigation that went cold.

In all, the parish cleared its liability in the suits and liens with more than $150,000 still in hand on the contract amount, Diez said.

"I am just excited that after this is all over - it took about 10 years - the parish did not lose its shirt on the deal and came out with a pretty nice place," he said.

Diez said that when the courthouse contract was terminated, $370,538 was left on the contract plus another $544,000 in the process of payment for work completed.

In late July 2009, Carvin's claims against the parish were settled with a roughly $150,000 payout, Diez said. Brian Gilbert, Carvin's attorney, had not returned messages for comment this month.

Most other liens were waived, Diez said. The other sizeable payment was for $15,000 to settle two suits between Carvin and subcontractor Amtek of Louisiana that also brought in the parish. Amtek did site preparation.

The council took action on Amtek on Oct. 6. Amtek attorney Kevin Landreneau said his client has been paid and he is planning to file dismissal papers in both suits

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