Attorneys for architect sued by city allege city officials knew Councilor’s son was on jury, which led to mistrial

Published 7:00 am Saturday, May 15, 2021

The attorneys for Landry Lewis Germany Architects filed a motion to amend counterclaims accusing several representatives of the city of Picayune of knowing a Councilor’s son was on the jury for a lawsuit where the city was suing the firm. The discovery was made after closing arguments had taken place on the final day of the trial, resulting in a mistrial.

In the motion, document 243, the attorneys claim that during jury selection, prospective jurors were asked to disclose any close relationships with “persons affiliated with the city of Picayune.”

Juror 16, who is later described in the document as being the son of Councilor Larry Breland, “did not provide his parents’ name on his juror information card.”

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“Juror 16 was alone among jurors empaneled in having declined to provide this information.”

After a week of court proceedings in the case, where the city of Picayune was suing the architect firm for damages due to flooding issues at the modern addition to historic City Hall, the court was informed on April 16, that the son of Breland was on the jury, resulting in the court declaring a mistrial.

The document goes on to state that Larry Breland, City Manager Jim Luke, Councilor Wayne Gouguet and several other representatives of the city were in the courtroom at some point during the days of court proceedings and knew that Breland’s son was on the jury.

Claims included in the motion include fraud, civil conspiracy and contempt.

Paragraph 15 under Civil Conspiracy of the document states, “The Defendant herein…alleges that Juror 16, Larry Breland and Jim Luke clearly sought to accomplish unlawful purpose of constituting a biased jury such that neither the Defendants nor this Court could be aware of the same; withheld information during the execution of Juror 16’s Juror Information Card and during jury selection; actively prevented the disclosure of this information by themselves or others; and inflicted upon the Defendants the cost in funds, time and labor of a trial ending in mistrial.”

The document also details photos from Juror 16’s Facebook account showing the juror and Luke had interactions for at least the past 10 years, which “reflect clearly that Jim Luke was aware at all times that Juror 16 was the son of a city councilor of Picayune.”

Jim Luke did not respond to the Item’s request for comment on the allegations, but documentation obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request resulted in the city representatives providing document 246, where attorneys for the city of Picayune respond to the allegations made in document 243.

In that document, the city cites document 242, where the court stated that after speaking with Juror 16, it was determined that the juror did not purposefully fail to inform the court of his tie to Councilor Brleand, but out of caution the court called a mistrial.

However, no where in document 246 does the legal counsel for the city state Luke or any other city representative were unaware Juror 16 was related to Breland. Instead it states, “There is no evidence to suggest that the City or its counsel tampered with this juror, from the time counsel acquired the names of potential jurors throughout the trial of this matter. Further, there is no evidence to suggest that the City or its counsel knew that this person would be on the jury until such time as the 12 jurors and single alternate were seated on April 12, 2021. The above-described facts do not form a reasonable basis for the conclusion that the City or its counsel were engaged in some type of civic conspiracy, fraud or criminal tampering.”

Attorneys for the architect in document 243 request reimbursement for the costs incurred in going to trial. The City, in its response, asks that the court strike the defendant’s motion outlined in document 243.

According to records obtained in the FIO request, the city of Picayune spent about $280,000 in legal representation fees for this case, entitled City of Picayune, a Mississippi Municipal Corporation vs Landry Lewis Germany Architects, P.A. F/K/A Landry and Lewis Architects,  P.A.: Endurance American Insurance Company; and John Does 1-5.