Former legislator Woody Jenkins made his second attempt at arguing that he has the right to file a lawsuit blocking the annexation of the Mall of Louisiana into the city of Baton Rouge on Tuesday at the First Circuit Court of Appeals.
In August, state District Judge Janice Clark tossed his lawsuit against the city of Baton Rouge that challenged the high profile annexation because she said he did not have legal standing to sue.
On Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the appellate court heard arguments about whether Jenkins has the right to present the challenge and move forward with his trial.
The city-parish, represented by Baton Rouge attorney Mary Olive Pierson, argued that Jenkins doesn’t have a “real and actual interest” in the annexation of the Mall of Louisiana because he does not live in any property that was annexed into the city. State law requires that someone must have this defined stake in an annexation case in order to legally challenge it.
She said annexations are typically challenged by property owners who are involuntarily acquired by a city, on the grounds that they don’t want to pay additional taxes required by joining the municipality.
But Jenkins, who is a resident of Baton Rouge, will not have any change in his tax burden as a result of the annexation, Pierson said.
“We can’t just have people filing lawsuits who aren’t actually interested in the outcomes of a lawsuit, except for some philosophical reason,” Pierson said.
The Mall of Louisiana was a flashpoint in the debate over the proposed city of St. George. The state’s largest mall, which is one of the largest sales tax generators in the parish, was initially included in the boundaries set forth by the hopeful new city leaders. The sales taxes would have been included in the new city’s budget, but Baton Rouge leaders lobbied the mall to join the city of Baton Rouge, securing millions of dollars of sales taxes for the parish coffers.
Jenkins attorney Alex St. Amant argued that the Baton Rouge Plan of Government says “any citizen” has the right to challenge an annexation.
But he also argued that regardless of the law, Jenkins is affected by annexation and should be considered a citizen with a real and actual interest in the outcome of the annexation.
St. Amant argued that city police protection, which provides coverage to Jenkins’ neighborhood, would be diluted with the additional responsibility of having to cover the Mall of Louisiana.
First Circuit Judge John Michael Guidry repeatedly contended in his line of questioning that if Jenkins is concerned about resources for city police, then he should support the annexation which would secure finances for the city-parish budget and the Police Department.
Judge Mitch Theriot also appeared skeptical that Jenkins had a legitimate stake in the lawsuit.
“If both sides are speculating, then how can you determine if he has a real and actual interest?” Theriot said.
First Circuit Judge Ernest Drake also served on the panel.
After the hearing, Jenkins said he was concerned that the judges were missing the point.
He said annexing the Mall of Louisiana does not generate additional funds for the city police, so there is no increase in revenue, as characterized by Guidry.
However, annexing the mall does prevent a loss of its revenue in the event that St. George were to succeed as a new city.
Jenkins said the judges are not supposed to consider the impact of the city of St. George because it is a proposal at this point. But when asked, he said that he isn’t personally concerned that the creation of the city of St. George would diminish police coverage in his neighborhood.
Jenkins is a vocal supporter of the creation of the city of St. George. But he said the lawsuit was not motivated by that support.
He said he was concerned by the judges’ line of questioning, but still believes he has standing and plans to continue to appeal his case in the event the appellate panel sides with the city-parish.