CLINTON — A physician who rented an East Feliciana Parish apartment earlier this month meets the residency requirements to run for parish coroner, and his qualifying for the Oct. 24 primary election sidelines two non physicians who also sought the office, a state district judge ruled Monday.
Twentieth Judicial District Judge Kathryn E. “Betsy” Jones ruled in favor of Dr. Fredrick Michael Cramer in a lawsuit Clinton Beauchamp, of Norwood, filed last week challenging Cramer’s eligibility to seek the office.
As part of another lawsuit filed by 20th Judicial District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla, Jones ordered state elections officials to refund the qualifying fees of candidates Joe Howell and Laura DeJohn, who is finishing the term begun by her late husband, Dr. Michael DeJohn.
Cramer testified he paid a deposit and September’s rent on an apartment at 3549 La. 67 south of Clinton on Aug. 26 and recently paid his October rent. He said he registered to vote in East Feliciana Parish on Sept. 7 and qualified for the election on Sept. 10.
Howell and DeJohn qualified earlier.
Cramer also said he had lived “off and on” at his mother’s home in Houston since 1961, but said he had no other place to live other than the East Feliciana apartment.
New Orleans attorney Val Patrick Exnicios, who represented Beauchamp, DeJohn and Howell, questioned Cramer at length about his living arrangements, including where he does his laundry and buys groceries, who his neighbors are, whether he has Internet service or cable or satellite television service at the apartment and what kind of vehicles he drives.
Jones cut off questioning about Cramer’s neighbors.
“No one is required to associate with their neighbors,” she said.
DeJohn and Howell testified they had never seen one of the vehicles Cramer said he drives parked at the apartment, while Beauchamp, who works at nearby Blairstown Plantation, said he had seen his car there once — at 6 a.m. Monday.
Without the apartment, “I would be homeless,” Cramer testified.
Cramer said he is licensed to practice medicine in Louisiana, Texas and Arizona, but most recently performs autopsies as a contracted pathologist. He changed the address on his Louisiana license on Friday, he said.
Yancy Guerin, chief investigator for the West Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office, said he has known Cramer since the 1990s and received a call from the physician’s landlord to verify his employment as a contract pathologist.
“We think he’s a great guy,” Guerin said before defending, with his voice rising, Cramer’s finding of homicide in the 2013 death of Sandra Rinaudo. A West Baton Rouge Parish grand jury declined to indict Rinaudo’s husband in connection with her death.
“We do believe Sandra Rinaudo was brutally beaten,” Guerin said before Exnicios objected and Jones ordered the comments stricken from the record.
“The law does not create a man without a country. Dr. Cramer has made it clear that he does not have a residence in any other state,” Jones said in ruling in his favor.
Jones said it is clear to her that Cramer moved to the parish for the purpose of running for coroner, but the reasons for him moving are irrelevant.
She said his “time in East Feliciana Parish has been short” but the law sets no time limit on residency, unlike for some other elected offices.
Because Cramer is a licensed physician, Jones said she was obligated to disqualify Howell and DeJohn from seeking the office.
An attorney for the Secretary of State’s Office said state law does not authorize refunds of qualifying fees for any reason, but Jones said the fact that a physician can trump a non physician in running for coroner presents a special case.
Otherwise, a nonphysician could be sure that a physician is not running only by waiting until 4:29 p.m. on the last day of qualifying to submit the necessary qualifying papers, Jones said.
Exnicios said his clients plan to take the case to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal.
He said Cramer’s move to the parish a short time before qualifying opened is not sufficient to establish a domicile in East Feliciana.
If DeJohn’s disqualification is upheld, she still is eligible to remain in office until her term expires in March, Exnicios said.