Battle for return of thousands paid into Caddo commissioners' retirement funds continues

Battle for return of thousands paid into Caddo commissioners' retirement funds continues

CADDO PARISH, LA (KSLA) - Caddo Parish commissioners are no longer benefiting from the parish retirement system or pay raises on the taxpayer's dime, but the local attorney and self-appointed government watchdog that sued over it is still fighting for a refund.

Elliott Stonecipher sued Caddo Parish and the commissioners back in 2015, alleging it is illegal for commissioners to participate in the parish retirement system known as "CPERS."

Stonecipher says the ordinance creating the system violated state law prohibiting part-time public officials from participating in a public retirement system.

A Louisiana legislative audit later found that 16 commissioners received $258,655.78 of taxpayer money in their CPERS accounts since it was first established in 2000.

The commission voted to opt out of the system and the pay raises in February 2016, but Stonecipher wants commissioners who received CPERS money to reimburse the parish.

"Just give the public its money back," he said.

On behalf of the parish, attorney Tom Arceneaux argued to a district judge in December that - as a private citizen - Stonecipher doesn't have a right to make that demand.

"He doesn't have the right to collect what's owed the parish. The parish is the one with the right to collect that debt," said Arceneaux.

Arceneaux explained the parish believes Stonecipher also doesn't have a right to sue the commission as a whole or individual commissioners.

"Individual citizens who believe in a particular point do not have the right to sue to force the parish to agree with the individual citizen."

A district judge sided with the parish in October, a decision Stonecipher derided and ultimately appealed.

"Those arguments granted by the lower court are laughable on their face," said Stonecipher. "This is all Kabuki theater, we're having to do all this because the people whose job it is to convict public officials who steal, will not do it."

That appeal brought the case before the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday, where both sides were given 20 minutes to make their arguments.

The parish asked the court to rule on whether Stonecipher should have to prove that he has the right to demand a court order for the money to be returned to the taxpayers.

The appeals court judges will have to decide whether to uphold the district court's decision fully, partially, or reverse it.

Copyright 2017 KSLA. All rights reserved.