Council bucks the AG, and now we’re all waiting for a lawsuit

Photo by Travis Gauthier
Council members turn to City-Parish Attorney Paul Escott

The gist: Opinions issued by LCG’s legal team and the attorney general on how to fix the charter errors are irreconcilable. The council sided with city-parish attorneys, raising the specter of litigation, which seemed pre-ordained regardless.

Get caught up, quickly: Errors in the legal descriptions of the map for the new city council districts — literally, words describing a map — have thrown the transition to separate councils into turmoil. In a lengthy report, LCG attorneys confidently argued an ordinance can fix the errors. The attorney general’s office disagreed, saying an election is the only way to make changes. The council approved a reapportionment ordinance fixing the issues by a 6-3 vote Tuesday night, with councilmen Pat Lewis, Jared Bellard and William Theriot voting against it. Now we’re waiting for some mysterious litigant to appear.

Not to overburden the point but these two opinions can’t be more opposite. The AG’s office says an election is the way to go and an ordinance is illegal. City-parish attorneys say literally the opposite. To wit, from the local legal memo issued March 10: An election is neither required nor appropriate. And from the AG’s opinion issued March 25: Such changes cannot be made by ordinance of the governing body.

What’s odd is that such changes have been made by ordinance for decades. As noted in the LCG report, LCG has routinely reapportioned districts between censuses by ordinance. It’s unclear whether the AG opinion suggests that practice should be outlawed altogether. The local memo says reapportionment “may not be determined by referendum,” a direct contradiction of the AG’s interpretation of the charter and statute.

Let’s not argue till we’re blue in the face. I’m not a lawyer. You’re not a lawyer (if you are, sorry). A lawsuit seems inevitable, in which case a judge would settle the dispute once and for all. Rumors that a suit is in the offing seem legit. Late last week, on behalf of undisclosed clients, attorney Lane Roy filed an inquiry with LCG prodding whether the charter amendments illegally “disposed” of LUS Fiber. Roy could not be reached before press time.

LCG attorney Paul Escott showed steady confidence in the work of his legal team Tuesday night and appeared skeptical of the speed and substance with which the attorney general’s office responded to a Monday request sent by a state senator from Vermilion Parish.

“[The request letter] looked strikingly similar to the actual opinion of the attorney general’s letter,” Escott said. Escott contrasted the relatively scant review in the AG opinion with the three weeks of study his team of four attorneys took to produce an 11-page report that concluded an ordinance was the best option.

“It does not change my opinion at all,” Escott advised the council with respect to the AG’s conflicting opinion. “It does not affect my confidence level.”

AG Jeff Landry said the quick turnaround was the result of “being prepared” in a radio interview Wednesday afternoon. He defended his office’s work, chiding the council for ignoring his advice at “their own peril” and likened the council discourse on the issue to “high pressure sales tactics.” He also questioned whether the secretary of state would allow candidates to qualify under the maps fixed by ordinance. “I don’t know where it goes from here,” he said.

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin has seen the AG opinion and is weighing his options. Ardoin left the issue up to the council to resolve after first declaring a vote was needed. Spokesman Tyler Brey tells me they’ve not determined what to do in light of the new AG opinion.

“We’re not going to wait until deadlines to make these decisions,” he says.

Geez, can I run for office yet or what? Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court Louis Perret says he expects to issue revised and final maps in the next few days. The registrar of voters is currently finalizing them after Tuesday’s vote to fix the discrepancies by ordinance.

Will the madness ever stop? Probably not. There’s a lot of bitterness clouding the issue. It’s hard to imagine that Tuesday’s vote will be the death of the controversy.

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