The state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal on Tuesday vacated a lower court’s judgment that would have disqualified Lionel “Lon” Burns from running for Orleans Parish district attorney.
The ruling means Burns, the only candidate challenging District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, will have another chance to prove to a district judge that he filed all of the tax returns necessary for him to run.
All candidates for public office in Louisiana are required to show they have filed both federal and state tax returns for the past five years.
Anthony Russo, a former magistrate commissioner at Criminal District Court, filed a lawsuit asking for Burns to be dropped from the election, citing his alleged failure to meet that requirement.
Civil District Court Judge Tiffany Chase ruled against Burns.
But in a 7-to-4 decision at the 4th Circuit, Judge Dennis Bagneris said Chase erred when she did not extend the district court trial an extra day to allow Burns to call his tax preparer, Monica Jackson, to the stand.
“Although this court acknowledges that the election code provides for an expedited process, it poses no time constraints as to the duration of a hearing,” Bagneris wrote.
Chase has argued that election law forced her to limit the hearing to one day.
Burns, a former Orleans Parish prosecutor, told the court he filed tax returns for 2010 to 2013 last month. He submitted copies of those returns into evidence during the hearing. However, an employee from the Louisiana Department of Revenue testified that after performing an updated search he still had not found the documents.
Chase ruled against Burns, barring him from the race.
In vacating the decision, Bagneris said Chase violated Burns’ due process rights by refusing to allow him the extra time. The 4th Circuit remanded the case to the district level.
In a written statement, Burns applauded the ruling, saying he was “still on course to be the next district attorney of Orleans Parish.”
He also lashed out at Cannizzaro’s office, accusing the sitting DA of trying to force him from the race.
During the trial in Civil District Court, Bradley Blanchard, an official with the state Revenue Department, testified that he was forwarded a public request for Burns’ tax status from his boss.
The initial email had been sent by First Assistant District Attorney Graymond Martin, a fact that Burns said provides ammunition to his claim the challenge was backed by Cannizzaro.
Christopher Bowman, a spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. He previously said that if Martin sent the email, he “would have been acting in his capacity as a private citizen.”
Russo has said he never spoke to Cannizzaro about challenging Burns’ candidacy and that he would have challenged Burns over any office he sought.
Burns’ next hearing in district court is set for Thursday.