St. John the Baptist Parish trial lawyer and recent political aspirant Daniel Becnel Jr. sued embattled Democratic state Sen. Troy Brown on Friday for monetary damages on allegations he provided “fraudulent information” about residing in his River Parishes state Senate district.
Becnel, a generous giver to Democratic campaigns, though not to Brown’s, sued on his own behalf as a voter in Senate District 2 and claims the civil damages suit will trigger a judicial review of Brown’s residency in the district.
“He violated that law because he didn’t have residency in the district he ran for. I’m going for damages on that because it is going to cost the state a fortune to redo that election,” said Becnel, who made an unsuccessful and contentious bid for St. John Parish president this fall.
Brown won a second term in Senate District 2 by beating two primary opponents Oct. 24 with 72 percent of the vote. Becnel contends that election should be “null and void.”
Questions about Brown’s residency in the district have come to light this week after he was accused of punching a woman who says she is his longtime girlfriend — what she calls a “side friend” — in the eye after the Bayou Classic football game Nov. 28.
Brown, who was arrested on a count of misdemeanor domestic abuse battery, claims he does not remember the incident with the woman because of an old brain injury from a car crash. He pleaded not guilty to the charge Monday in a New Orleans court and has sought medical help.
After the arrest, questions have been raised about where Brown lives, as he gave police a Geismar address outside his district. Through a spokeswoman, Brown has maintained that while he has a house in Geismar with his wife, he also maintains a legal domicile in his district.
Brown’s spokeswoman, Marsanne Golsby, has said he will not give up his seat, but, as a result of the pending criminal charge, Brown agreed with Senate President John Alario on Thursday to give up his vice chairmanship on the Senate Environmental Quality Committee until the case is resolved.
Golsby would not respond to the suit Friday.
“Sen. Brown has not been served with any lawsuit relative to this issue, so we have no comment at this time,” she said.
Becnel’s planned legal route to challenge Brown’s residency differs from what a spokeswoman from the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office described on Friday.
She pointed to sections of the state election code that say voters in the eight-parish Senate District 2 can file a complaint with the state Attorney General’s Office.
The office can investigate and must write an opinion. If necessary, the office can then file suit to have a court declare the candidate is not domiciled in the district and that the seat is vacant.
Becnel’s suit, which was filed in the 40th Judicial District on Friday afternoon, claims Brown does not have his domicile in Senate District 2, though he asserted that in qualifying papers earlier this year.
“In reality, Defendant is domiciled outside of the district for which he qualified to run,” the suit says.
A key aspect of litigation that Becnel is pursuing is the civil discovery, during which each side can probe into the background of the other. Becnel said he planned to call Brown and his wife, Toni, in for depositions to find out where Brown is domiciled.
Brown told New Orleans police who arrested him Saturday that he lived at 36518 S. Francine Circle, Geismar, which Ascension Parish officials have since said is outside Senate District 2.
In qualifying papers in 2011 and 2015, Brown listed a duplex he owns in the Paincourtville area, 5806 La. 308, Napoleonville, which is in the district.
Other business, property tax and state financial disclosure papers for Brown also point to the Geismar address as his home or mailing address.
But Golsby has said Brown splits time between both homes. He is registered to vote at the Paincourtville address, which is near where he grew up, and does not claim homestead exemption in Ascension or Assumption parishes.
The Geismar address is where Brown’s wife and family live and is where his sporty, black sedan with a Senate license plate was parked Wednesday. It is also where Brown’s wife is registered to vote, Ascension Parish Registrar of Voters Robert Poche said.
Brown’s wife also said in an interview Tuesday that her husband lives in Geismar, where she does, but would not say if he lives anywhere else.
Senate District 2 covers parts of Ascension, Assumption, Iberville, Lafourche, St. Charles, St. James, St. John the Baptist and West Baton Rouge parishes.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.