At the Oct. 26th East Baton Rouge Metro Council meeting, council members grilled Parish Attorney Andy Dotson, his office, and the mayor about the storm water utility fee.
The nearly two-hour meeting addressed issues such as why the public and council were led to believe there was a non-disclosure agreement in place preventing people from detailing the fee the public would have to pay.
Parish Attorney Dotson explained that Federal Article 408 is what prevented everyone from disclosing details.
“It’s stamped as such at the top stating it should not be released pursuant to Article 408 of the Federal Court of evidence specifically speaks to the fact that lawyers are not able to disclose confidential negotiation,” Dotson said.
State & Federal Criminal Defense Attorney Franz Borghardt said Article 408 only prevents evidence and or conversations from being admitted into court during a hearing or trial.
“That article does not deal with disclosure of discussions about settlements or make confidential those conversations,” Borghardt said. “What that article does is in the event the settlement doesn’t happen, you can’t use things said at the settlement negotiations in a proceeding or trial. Either it is a misstatement of the law, a misinterpretation, misstatement of the law or it is someone trying to mislead the council because that article does not apply to what he (Dotson) is talking about.”
Dotson has been the East Baton Rouge Parish attorney since 2019. Councilman Cleve Dunn requested the process begin to potentially remove Dotson from his position saying the confidence in the attorney has dwindled over the storm water fee issue.
“Our concern is ensuring that the federal government has certainty that the city-parish is not releasing information that it should not,” Dotson said. “It was our opinion and I believe that the best way to do that was to have all non-lawyer individuals including our clients sign NDAs.”
Two federal agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) told Congressman Garret Graves they didn’t require anything to be kept confidential.
“They made it crystal clear to us there is no non-disclosure agreement required by the federal agencies so if there’s any non-disclosure agreement that exists, it’s not because of any federal agency requirements,” Graves said.
At the last council meeting, Assistant Parish Attorney Bob Abbott said he felt to keep from disclosing information, a non-disclosure would be best after he spoke with the EPA and DOJ. He said Dotson agreed. Council members are now questioning Abbott’s job.
“I do think that the NDA was designed to conceal information and keep secrets certain things,” said Borghardt. “That’s what an NDA does by its very nature, but lets not mince words. That was a choice, not legally required. Now why that choice was made, why the choice was made to not share that information is a question only Mr. Dotson and the parish attorney’s office can answer.”
“If you disclose the information to an outside party, now I have to deal with the federal regulators on how this confidential information, which you insured was not going to get out, has gotten out and that may potentially hurt us down the road and lead the city to having to incur a cause of action because of that release of information,” said Dotson to the council. “So we felt the safest way and best way to show the federal government that we relayed that information was to have all non-lawyers and personnel including members of the council.”
“If the feds are saying we never required an NDA, well that means who wanted the NDA? Well, Mr, Dotson and the parish attorney’s office,” said Borghardt.
“What the NDA was to do was to keep from the disclosure of confidential settlement discussions between the DOJ and our office,” Dotson explained on Oct. 26th.
“I think the public has the right to have that question that you’re posing, ‘Why was this done,’ answered because it demolished and destroys transparency right? And I think that’s why a lot of members of the council are upset. The council represents who? The people. So now the council is sitting here saying, ‘Wait a minute, this doesn’t smell right. This doesn’t sound right,’ and they’re being told by their counsel, ‘Oh, it’s this legal reason I couldn’t give away the information,’ but the truth is the legal reason that’s being provided by Mr. Dotson and the parish attorney’s office, that’s not what the law prohibits or requires,” said Borghardt. “This is really eroding trust.”
Unfiltered with Kiran has repeatedly reached out to Dotson and the mayor’s office for any comment and requests for interviews. So far, there has been no response to any of the calls, emails or texts.