A federal judge in New Orleans on Monday dismissed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the reapportionment plan for the St. James Parish Council.
U.S. District Judge Martin L. C. Feldman ruled for the Parish Council after the plaintiffs failed to meet a court deadline for a second time in three months, his ruling said.
“Although acknowledging that the individual plaintiffs were not at fault for their counsel’s mistakes, the Court expressly admonished counsel that: ‘Future lapses by counsel … will not be tolerated,’ ” Feldman wrote in his 14-page ruling Monday, quoting from an earlier Aug. 23 order.
Feldman also found that the plaintiffs failed to provide enough facts to support their claims.
The council is slated for a primary election on Oct. 22.
The U.S. Department of Justice pre-cleared the reapportionment plan on Aug. 29, apparently clearing the way for the election. But the plaintiffs had the federal lawsuit pending and, with it, the risk that the judge could order a delay.
Parish government spokeswoman Melissa Wilkins said Monday the plaintiffs have 30 days to appeal. But plaintiffs’ attorney Bobby Faucheux Jr. said his clients plan to file an entirely new suit, seek an injunction to delay the election or ask for a hearing before the election is held.
Feldman dismissed the suit on Monday “with prejudice,” which means issues raised in it cannot be brought up again.
Faucheux said the new suit will raise new issues and “be a lot more specific how they (the councilmen) disenfranchised and discriminated against black voters” in reapportioning the council districts.
He said he was never served with the parish’s motion to dismiss. The plaintiffs are seven black residents in each of the seven council districts. They seek to represent the class of black voters in St. James.
The Parish Council currently has three black members.
The council’s reapportionment plan maintains three strong majority black districts — Districts 4, 5 and 6 — and leaves a fourth, District 2, with a roughly 50-50 split between white and black voters.
The parish’s population in 2010 was 52 percent black, up from just under 50 percent in 2000, according to census data.
Reapportionment is constitutionally required after each decennial census to align districts with population changes.