A federal magistrate judge has recommended dismissing a lawsuit the Iberia Parish Council filed in October targeting Parish President Errol “Romo” Romero’s son Shane, saying the case belongs in state court.
In the lawsuit, an attorney for the council claimed Shane Romero was improperly making parish government decisions for his father.
But Judge Michael C. Hill wrote this week that the claims on which the council based its lawsuit — that Shane Romero had violated federal governmental separation of powers and due process doctrines — did not rise to threshold level required for a case to be heard in federal court.
Hill said the case belonged in state court.
Hill also noted the politics involved, agreeing with a motion Shane Romero filed in January that the council’s lawsuit is “a poorly veiled attempt to use the federal courts to settle a political dispute.”
Hill wrote, “Without going into great detail here, suffice it to say that an ongoing political fight has erupted between the council on one hand, and Shane and Romo on the other hand.”
The lawsuit was an attempt to have a judge order Shane Romero to stay away from his father’s office. The council alleged the younger Romero was making decisions for Iberia Parish and that he had “usurped the office of the parish president.”
And the suit intimated that Errol Romero was not mentally fit to make decisions.
In an emailed statement Friday, Shane Romero said the parish’s lawsuit was “dirty politics.” He said it was filed four weeks before an election for New Iberia city judge, a race that he had entered and ended up losing.
Shane Romero in his statement vowed to “hold all those involved in pursuing this lawsuit responsible.”
Hill, as a federal magistrate judge, cannot dismiss the suit. That authority rests with U.S. District Judge Rebecca Doherty.
The council’s attorney, Gary McGoffin, said Friday he would ask council members at the next regular meeting how they want to proceed.
The council could pursue the matter by filing a lawsuit in state district court, drop the suit or ask Doherty to keep the case alive in federal court.
McGoffin said the council decided to file the suit in federal court in October because of the politics involved.
“It’s a sensitive local issue. The desire was, let’s take it to the federal court first so that we can avoid the perception of local, political persuasion” in state district court in New Iberia, he said.
That sensitive local issue has its roots in a fight between the Romeros and former District Attorney Phil Haney that erupted during a hard-fought 2011 campaign for parish president, which Romero won.
In February 2012, after taking office, Romero purportedly composed a 60-page complaint and mailed it to some of Louisiana’s chief law officials, including Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and the chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court. The complaint claimed Haney, who backed another candidate, played dirty by coercing voters to cast ballots for Romero’s opponent.
The Attorney General’s Office reviewed the case and dismissed the allegations.
A separate investigation, paid for by parish government and carried out by former U.S. Attorney Donald Washington, found the complaint letter most probably was written by Shane Romero and another attorney.
Washington, who did not interview Errol Romero but watched a recording of him in a deposition, concluded the elder Romero “appears to have a significant, bona fide memory deficit as he was unable to recall a number of issues that are relevant to this investigation.”