Lawyers could be paid more in Louisiana if they successfully defend fired first-responders

By: - March 17, 2022 6:21 pm
Proposal would prevent rogue police from keeping badge

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A Louisiana Senate committee advanced a bill Wednesday that would require municipalities to pay higher attorney’s fees when civil service boards reverse the terminations of police officers and firefighters.

Senate Bill 215, filed by Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, would allow attorneys to collect up to $5,000 if they win an appeal to a local civil service board. 

Most cities and towns in Louisiana have a local police and fire civil service board that has the power to overturn disciplinary action and terminations of police officers and firefighters. The boards typically comprise five members, two of whom are active members of the local police department and fire department and are elected by their fellow first-responders.  

Under current state law, a defense attorney for a police officer or firefighter can be awarded up to $1,000 in legal fees if a civil service board reverses a termination or disciplinary action.

Civil service boards have attracted public scrutiny in recent years with high-profile cases of police misconduct and the subsequent challenges cities face to discipline or fire problem officers.  

Baton Rouge Police Cpl. Robert Moruzzi was reinstated to his job after being fired for pointing a gun at a downtown bar manager while off duty. Then in 2016, he was subsequently held liable by a federal jury for an excessive force incident in which he stomped on the back of a man’s head, knocking out his front teeth, according to reports by WAFB-TV.  

Despite his checkered past, Moruzzi’s fellow officers elected him to Baton Rouge’s civil service board – the governing body that gave him back his job in 2010. He was reelected to the board in 2020 but announced his resignation in January after several contentious meetings that drove the board attorney to quit, according to The Advocate

In an interview following Wednesday’s committee meeting, Luneau said his bill really has nothing to do with the politics surrounding civil service boards and is just to bring the legal fees in line with current costs. He said it’s difficult to find lawyers to take civil service cases because the statute hasn’t been updated in 27 years. 

“We’re talking about 27 years since there’s been an increase,” Luneau said. “What else hasn’t gone up in costs since 1995?”

Luneau said the $5,000 figure is not a guarantee but is simply the maximum amount that may be awarded. 

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Much of his journalism has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and coverage of municipal and state government. He has received recognitions including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus and a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his two sons and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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