Outside counsel sought by Chickasaw County

By Floyd Ingram/Chickasaw Journal

A Chickasaw County lawsuit has prompted supervisors and a local business to both seek outside counsel to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Ausbern Construction filed a suit against the Chickasaw County Board of Supervisors and Springer Engineering earlier this spring seeking payment for work the company did at the alleged direction of the county and its engineer.

Ausbern Construction is owned by the family of Chickasaw County Attorney Elizabeth Ausbern. Ausbern Construction’s suit was filed through the law offices of Jones amp& Walker, of Jackson.

Chickasaw County has hired the firm of Carnathan amp& McAuley, of Tupelo, to handle legal duties for the Board of Supervisors.

“This is not the first time the county has ever been sued and it won’t be the last,” said Anderson McFarland, who as President of the Chickasaw County Board of Supervisors, was named in the suit. “We would hope this could be settled out of court.”

Potential conflict of interest has also prompted Judge John Gregory to recuse himself from hearing the case, since Gregory was the county attorney prior to Elizabeth Ausbern’s election to the post last summer.

At the heart of the case is the payment for grading and resurfacing 1.39-miles of County Road 4. Ausbern’s bid of $396,566 for the work was accepted by the county and awarded on Nov. 23, 2010.

The suit filed by Ausbern Construction, which represents only one side of the case, says the county breached its contract and the company is owed not less than $220,000 in damages.

The suit contends County Engineer Ed Springer underestimated the amount of material needed to resurface the road, knew Ausbern Construction would be putting down 19,944-cubic yards of materials on a bid that specified 7,689-cubic yards and that Springer failed to notify state and local authorities of this change so Ausbern Construction could be paid accordingly.

Springer did not return phone calls seeking comment on this case and his office referred questions to Springer’s attorney Rex Sanderson, of Houston.

Sanderson would not comment on the facts of the case, but said he has filed two motions to have the case dismissed. The first motion says the suit inaccurately names Springer Engineering as the county’s engineer and not Edward Springer. The second motion points to Springer’s immunity from lawsuits while working as an employee of the county.

County Attorney Elizabeth Ausbern did not return phone calls seeking comment on a possible conflict of interest in the suit.

The county’s attorney of record, Gary Carnathan, would also not comment on the fact of the case.

“I do represent Chickasaw County in this case,” said Carnathan. “Under these circumstances I would have recommended any board or civic body to seek outside counsel.”

As of Monday, a trial date had not been set in Chickasaw County Circuit Court for this case.