A lawsuit challenging whether U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu is a resident of Louisiana and qualified to run for re-election has been dismissed on a technical issue related to timing.
But the central argument over Landrieu’s residency skirted past a formal ruling Friday. Judge Wilson Fields, of the 19th Judicial District, said Republican state Rep. Paul Hollis’ lawsuit is premature because residency can only be challenged once a senator is elected. Hollis’ petition had directly addressed Landrieu’s qualifications as a candidate — not a sitting senator.
Landrieu, a Democrat in her third term in the U.S. Senate, has long maintained that she is a resident of New Orleans — claiming the house where she grew up with her parents as her home. She’s registered to vote there and owns the house along with her siblings and parents.
But Landrieu also owns a $2.5 million home in Washington, D.C., where her husband is a real estate broker, and critics have argued that she has made the nation’s capital her permanent home.
After Hollis’ lawsuit was dismissed Friday, Landrieu’s attorneys said she will make the legal case for her Louisiana residency if necessary at a later date.
“Sen. Landrieu has been a resident of the state of Louisiana her entire life,” Landrieu’s attorney Tony Clayton said.
Hollis, of Covington, said he hasn’t yet decided whether he will appeal Friday’s ruling, but he expects to revisit the residency issue if Landrieu wins this fall’s election, which is slated for Nov. 4 with the potential for a Dec. 6 runoff.
Landrieu was not in court for the hearing. Clayton said she would attend if the matter went to trial, but they suspected it would be quickly dismissed.
A small group of Republican activists had gathered outside the courthouse in case Landrieu attended with signs “welcoming” her to Louisiana.
“I do think it’s interesting the senator was not here to prove her inhabitancy,” Hollis said.
Legal experts had predicted the case would be dismissed, and they say it’s unlikely legal arguments that Landrieu isn’t a resident of Louisiana will pass muster.
But the issue of Landrieu’s residency is among the latest political hurdles she faces this election cycle. Considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats seeking re-election to the Senate, Landrieu’s race has drawn the national spotlight.
She faces Republican challengers U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, of Baton Rouge, and tea party-backed Ron Maness, of Madisonville, who filed his own rejected petitions challenging Landrieu’s Louisiana residency.
Documents that Hollis’ attorney, Matthew Monson, brought to court Friday largely mirrored Maness’ claims — that Landrieu used the word “permanently” to describe her move to Washington in a 1997 New York Times article; that she has used her Washington address on official paperwork; that she hosts parties and political gatherings there; and that her parents live in the 4301 S. Prieur St. home in New Orleans that she lists as her Louisiana residence.
In an email following the ruling, Landrieu spokesman Fabien Levy called Hollis’ lawsuit “desperate.”
“For the sake of Louisiana voters, it’s time we end this sideshow and focus on the issues important in this race,” Levy said.
In court, Clayton described what he saw as a series of errors in the lawsuit’s filing, which he said showed that it was politically driven and should be dismissed.
“This is completely a sham,” Clayton said.
The petition reached the clerk’s office a minute after the 4:30 p.m. deadline. Monson said that was due to a busy fax machine at the courthouse and argued the law is unclear on the deadline.
As initially filed, the petition stated that Landrieu is a resident of Orleans Parish, which is the opposite of the Hollis’ claim that she doesn’t live in Louisiana. Monson said that part was a clerical error and should have said she “claims to” live in Orleans Parish.
At one point, Fields asked Monson to explain what he thought “domicile” meant legally.
“I actually don’t know,” Monson told the judge.
Legally, a person’s domicile is his or her “habitual residence.” Fields said the legal definition is important to him. He personally dealt with the residence/domicile issue in the courts in 1995, when he ran for the state Senate as a college student.
“We had no business having to come up here today,” Clayton said. “He doesn’t know what domicile is.”
It took less than an hour of the back-and-forth for Fields to dismiss the case, ordering Hollis to pay court costs and suggesting that Landrieu may be able to seek reimbursement for her legal fees from Hollis.
Shortly after, Landrieu’s campaign insinuated that the residency issue had been decided, despite the dismissal relying solely on technical issues.
“The judge was clear — Sen. Landrieu resides in Louisiana and is qualified to run for the Senate, as she has three times in the past,” Levy said in the statement.
Meanwhile, state Republican Party Executive Director Jason Doré doubled down on the claim that Landrieu doesn’t live in Louisiana.
“The fact that Mary Landrieu’s lawyers argued their case on a timing technicality and not whether Landrieu is actually a Louisiana resident says a lot about where the senator actually lives,” he said. “It’s laughable that Sen. Landrieu thinks voters will believe that she can afford a $2.5 million house in Washington, D.C., but lives with her parents and doesn’t own a home herself in Louisiana.”
Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.
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