CONVENT — A wrecker driver and repo man challenging incumbent St. James Parish Sheriff Willy Martin Jr. in this fall’s election did not dispute Monday he mostly resided in New Orleans and has rented his longtime Gramercy home to the same man for more than six years.
But Lester M. Ezidore, a St. James Parish native, drew a distinction between the residence where he happened to be staying and his legal “domicile,” which, he testified, remains in St. James and should allow him to run for sheriff Oct. 24.
Twenty-third Judicial District Attorney Ricky Babin’s Office wants Ezidore disqualified after investigating a complaint from Gramercy Mayor Steve Nosacka. The mayor claimed Ezidore does not pay the water bill at the 241 S. Hickory St. home, which is listed in Ezidore’s election qualifying papers.
Under state law, a candidate for sheriff must have lived in Louisiana for two years and been “actually domiciled” at least a year in the parish where he or she qualified.
The District Attorney’s Office claims Ezidore’s domicile is 7330 Shubrick Ave., New Orleans. Ezidore acknowledged Monday he often slept, ate and bathed at the New Orleans address where he and his wife and his brother-in-law live.
But, Ezidore said, his homestead exemption, driver’s license, voter registration and business all show the address of the Gramercy home, which he has owned for 40 to 50 years.
Assistant District Attorney Bruce Mohon noted that Ezidore’s concealed gun permit lists the New Orleans address, while a 2014 tax suit says Ezidore had an Orleans Parish domicile. Ezidore later disputed the suit’s description.
“He has no ties to the Gramercy address other than he owns it,” Mohon told 23rd Judicial District Judge Jason Verdigets.
Past court rulings say candidates for office can have many residences but only one domicile.
Ezidore’s attorney, Clerk of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Arthur Morrell, told Verdigets that under state law, where someone has a homestead exemption is the paramount fact to consider, though not the only one.
Morrell, a former longtime New Orleans state representative, said the law requires a person to register to vote where their homestead exemption is filed but does not say how often a person must live in that place for it to qualify as a domicile.
Herman Stafford testified he has been paying Ezidore $700 a month for more than six years to live at the 241 S. Hickory home. Stafford said he sends money orders for the rent to the Shubrick address in New Orleans.
Stafford added he had paid all utilities until recently when Ezidore agreed to put gas and electricity bills in his name and pay them. Stafford said he gets the cost added to his rent.
Stafford also testified that Ezidore never lived or slept at South Hickory nor ate there, though he had changed his clothes there once a few years ago.
Stafford said Ezidore once had a key to the home but Stafford changed the locks after his May marriage.
Ezidore countered that he owned the sofa and kept some uniforms there and only recently learned Stafford changed the locks but had gotten a key to one set of those locks.
St. James Parish Assessor Glenn Waguespack testified that homeowners can claim homestead exemption only on property where they live and that they own. He said rental property does not qualify for the exemption.
Verdigets took the case under advisement but, under state law, has 24 hours to rule.
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