The defense asked the case to be dismissed on the following grounds.
- The case is nothing more than a challenge to the December 8th election.
- The remedy of a new election should be taken off of the table.
- Allowing the case to move forward “subverts” the December 8th election.
The plaintiff asked the case to move forward on the following grounds.
- A council ordinance alone can not amend the home rule charter.
- If they went to the people to amend the charter in December, they need to go back to the people to amend it again.
- Good intentions don’t override the rule of law.
The judge’s ruling:
- This case is NOT an election challenge.
- Exceptions overruled.
- The case will be heard on May 8th.
We don’t speak Legalese, so today’s court hearing about an exception didn’t make much sense. However, once things were underway, the intentions became apparent: reframing Mr. Kishbaugh’s argument into challenging the results of the December 8th election. If successful, the judge could simply declare the complaint was filed after the election challenge period and dismiss the case.
We’ve already delved into the crux of what came before the judge today. Amending the home rule charter requires an election, where the people vote for or against charter amendments. It can not be done by a simple ordinance of the council. This point is made clear in the Louisiana State Constitution, Article VI, Section 5(C) and echoed again in Lafayette Home Rule Charter, section 7-03 C. Instead of addressing their attempting to bypass the rules with a simple ordinance, the LCG attorneys unsuccessfully chose to focus on the word “election.” All of LCG’s points were defending against imaginary allegations that were never made.
City-Parish attorney attempted to reframe as an election challenge
Arguments and documents were submitted about the December 8th election, the promulgation of the election results on December 18th, the challenge period, etc. ad nauseam. This isn’t about the December 8th election. These documents are not relevant to the case. However, the judge overruled all of the relevancy objections made by Lane Roy and the Louisiana Attorney General.
The state attorney took some time to describe what an election challenge looks like. She then contrasted an election challenge with the crux of the case: the City-Parish Council may not legally amend the home rule charter with an ordinance.
Nobody voted for the home rule charter
In one of the more startling statements made, the city-parish attorney suggested that no one voted on home rule charter amendments. Instead, they voted for separate councils. Hebert said, there is no remedy satisfactory to the other side but having another election. Therefore, the case is nothing more than a concealed attempt to challenge the election after the challenge period.
Judge John Trahan didn’t miss the nuance. He aptly noted that the Kishbaugh side is not asking for another election. Their position is a simple ordinance can not remedy problems in a home rule charter, which may only be amended by a vote of the people.
After some time of the city-parish attorney attempting to change the subject back to the election of December 8th, the judge cut in and asked a question. If he rules the city’s ordinance as “constitutionally infirm,” what would happen? Mike Hebert answered that if the judge ruled an election is required to amend the charter, and the voters said no, the entire charter would be called into question. The plaintiff attorneys noted that the decision was the voters’ privilege, not the government’s.
Everyone knew about the problems before the challenge deadline
The judge then moved on to Mr. Paul Escott, who made another starting statement. He said the precinct issues were known to the public for a long time before the challenge deadline. He also “thought” it was well covered by the press. Although the election is not the point of the court case, it may be a good time to pause and reflect upon this statement. Way back on February 28th, we reported that no one we talked to on the council had received any notification before the challenge period ended.
Back then, the registrar of voters sent an email to the clerk of the council that was never forwarded to the council. This is a break with our understanding of proper procedure. Normally, the clerk forwards such communications to the council members directly. Instead, and several hours later, the registrar of voters inexplicably sent a second email, adding the council members into the carbon-copy distribution. This is the email that no council member received.
A public records request to the Secretary of State’s office found that no one responded to the registrar asking her to include the council members in a second email. The same public records request to the City-Parish came back empty, citing “attorney client privilege.”
Good intentions are not a suitable reason to override the law
When Lane Roy and Emily Andrews, of the Attorney General’s office, were called upon, the issue before the court was presented clearly and simply. Calling an election to fix the charter is not a problem for the court. It’s up to the Lafayette Government to do that. All the judge is being asked to do is rule on the legality of a council ordinance amending their own governing document.
Judge Trahan asked what would happen if the term of the elected officials expire before the charter issues can be remedied. Answer: if the court decides to invalidate the entire new home rule charter, the government would revert back to the previous charter and the nine district city-parish council.
Ms. Andrews said, whether or not a law is infirm is the jurisdiction of the court. The other side is demanding that the court uphold an illegal ordinance simply because it was made with good intentions. Good intentions are not a suitable reason to override the law.
The judge sided with the plaintiff, Keith Kishbaugh, Lane Roy, the Secretary of State, and the Attorney General. The case will move forward and be heard on May 8th.