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Judge rules to lift court order on Vermilion Parish School Board

Decision allows board to hold meeting on superintendent
Posted at 12:25 PM, Jul 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-31 17:45:10-04

A district judge decided Tuesday that the Vermilion Parish School Board can proceed with discussions aimed at placing Superintendent Jerome Puyau on leave - again.

Last year, the board moved to place Puyau on administrative leave with pay pending an investigation into complaints against his character and competency as superintendent.

However, a hearings officer said that those allegations were unfounded and Puyau returned to work after two months on paid leave.

In court this week, the board had a new lawyer - Bob Hammonds of Baton Rouge - to help them with their growing legal issues.

The board already has revised its board agenda for tomorrow's meeting to include an item to "appoint special counsel to conduct investigation and report findings to the Board," to "place the Superintendent on administrative leave with pay pending investigation by the special counsel and any Board action in response to the findings of the investigation" and to direct all employees to cooperate with the special counsel.

Last week, Lane Roy, who represents Puyau, convinced Judge Christian Earles to order a preliminary injunction to stop the board from proceeding with hiring Hammonds. The court order included a Temporary Restraining Order that prevented the school board from meeting about Puyau.

On Tuesday, Earles ruled that the injunction was issued incorrectly and dissolved the TRO, which clears the way for the board to proceed with its investigation of Puyau.

In his remarks, Roy argued that the board was trying to overstep its bounds and block Puyau from taking steps that he is authorized to make according to state law.

“I don’t disagree with you on the details of the case,” said Earles before issuing his ruling. “The issue here is irreparable harm. There is no irreparable harm.”

Two members of the board, VPSB President Laura LeBeouf and VPSB Vice President Kibbe Pillette, were present and represented by Hammonds. This comes after the board moved in July to eliminate the position of Legal Counsel / Risk Manager along with its funding and sign a contract with the Hammonds, Sills, Adkins & Guice Law firm as the board's general counsel.

Defense attorneys argued that the TRO that Roy filed on behalf of Puyau was done incorrectly and that the board’s counsel was not properly informed of it ahead of time.

Roy responded by saying that he had attempted to file the TRO on Friday, July 12, which was when the clerk of court’s office was closed ahead of Tropical Storm Barry, but that he submitted it successfully the following Monday, July 15.

“We’re not getting involved in this anymore until something else happens,” said Earles after his ruling.

The decision now allows the board to have that meeting to decide on a second investigation of Puyau and hiring a special counsel.

“We will do whatever we need to do to uphold the system in Vermilion Parish,” Roy told KATC after Tuesday’s hearing. “This is identical to the Pat Cooper case.”

Roy is referring to a similar case in 2014 where he represented Lafayette Parish School Systems Superintendent Pat Cooper who was fired by the LPSS Board on allegations that he violated policy. An appeals court later determined that his termination was wrongful.

“It’s clearly not over,” said Roy. “This board has made it very clear that they don’t care about the students or the employees of the Vermilion Parish School Board. They want control of the educators.”

KATC also got reaction from Pillette after the court's decision.

“I’m very happy that the injunction was relieved,” said Pillette after the ruling. “We just want what’s best for Vermilion Parish.”

Asked if the board would pursue another investigation, Pillette added, “We just want an investigation so we can see what is behind these complaints and have transparency.”