Chris Roberts, who has served on the Jefferson Parish Council for more than a decade, appears likely to remain on this fall’s ballot for re-election after fending off multiple lawsuits this week aimed at knocking him out of the race.
The judge presiding over one of those lawsuits ruled in favor of Roberts on Tuesday, rejecting a claim that Roberts should be disqualified for signing up to run in next month’s election without having first filed necessary state tax returns and campaign finance reports.
That ruling came a day after two lawsuits accusing Roberts of listing an inaccurate address on his sign-up form were dismissed because the plaintiff, Connie Montgomery, a Kenner lawyer, did not show up in court Monday for hearings.
Montgomery said Tuesday that she did not anticipate appealing the dismissal of her lawsuits, which — like the other filing by plaintiff Stephen Petit — sought to deny Roberts a chance at winning a second term as one of the two at-large Parish Council members.
Petit said he would appeal and insisted that Roberts “has ignored the rules and the laws of Louisiana,” but he acknowledged that he might have an uphill climb after Tuesday’s decision.
As a result, it seems likely that Roberts’ fate will be decided by parish voters during the Oct. 24 primary, rather than by the courts.
“The foundation by which a democracy exists is ... allowing the citizens to have the right to choose their leaders,” Roberts said Tuesday. “I would be very suspicious of anyone who looks to take that right away from the people.”
Petit’s lawsuit, which was heard by 24th Judicial District Court Judge Lee Faulkner, alleged that Roberts had not filed his previous five state income tax returns nor asked for an extension to file in the last two years when he signed up to run for re-election on Sept. 9.
Petit also accused Roberts of not filing three campaign finance reports required by the state Ethics Administration until a few hours after he signed up.
On his election forms, Roberts certified that he had filed all tax returns and campaign finance reports necessary under Louisiana campaign regulations. Petit said candidates can be disqualified for supplying election officials with information that is incorrect.
Roberts denied wrongdoing, saying that to the best of his knowledge all his paperwork was in order.
Roberts testified that he mailed the tax forms in question on Sept. 9, shortly before he went to sign up for re-election, and that he had asked in April for an extension to file his 2014 return.
In his ruling, Faulkner accepted that explanation, even though a Louisiana Department of Revenue official testified that the agency didn’t receive the tax forms until Sept. 14. The judge ruled that a candidate’s tax returns are considered filed on the date they are postmarked, not the date when they are received. The Department of Revenue official testified that the agency has no way to easily determine when returns are postmarked.
Regarding Roberts’ campaign finance reports, Faulkner cited a previous decision by the state 5th Circuit Court of Appeal that such filings are deemed to be on time as long as they are submitted before the end of an election’s qualifying period. Qualifying for the Oct. 24 primary ended Sept. 10, the day after Roberts qualified and submitted his reports.
“There is nothing more fundamental to our society than the ability of our electorate to choose its leaders,” Faulkner wrote in a memo explaining his decision. “The purpose of the election process is to provide the electorate with a wide choice of candidates.”
Roberts has drawn two challengers for his seat: former Kenner Mayor Louis Congemi and Jimmy Lawson; both are former Parish Council members.
Congemi also was targeted by a lawsuit seeking to disqualify him, but on Monday, it was dismissed, as well.