Derrick Shepherd’s comeback bid for the Louisiana House of Representatives suffered a setback Friday when a judge disqualified his candidacy, but his hopes to reclaim his old seat still hang by a thread in the form of an appeal and the judge’s last-minute agreement to let Shepherd’s name stay on the Oct. 24 ballot for a few days.
Shepherd, a former state senator and representative whose 2008 felony conviction and two-year prison term for money laundering seem to prevent him from running for the District 87 seat, was still upbeat despite 24th Judicial District Judge Stephen Enright’s morning ruling to disqualify him.
“I’m optimistic. That’s the best word for it,” Shepherd said, with his appeal and a separate constitutional challenge to the law that prohibits him from running both slated for decisions next week.
“I respect his ruling; I just think he’s incorrect, and I look forward to them hearing the merits of the constitutional argument,” Shepherd said. “I just want to tell everybody who’s praying for me that the fight isn’t over yet.”
Assuming he defies the odds, early indications are that Shepherd’s campaign will focus on a story of redemption and that, rather than run from his admission that he took $140,000 from the sale of fake bonds, he’ll embrace it as a mistake he’s determined to atone for.
Shepherd, who attended Friday’s hearing with several ministers, handed reporters a flier emblazoned with the slogan: “Everyone Deserves a Second Chance.” Across the top was a biblical quote from Matthew 6:15 — “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
“Look at the back,” Shepherd suggested, revealing images of Michael Vick, Edwin Edwards, Jimmy Swaggart, Bill Clinton, Muhammad Ali and Lazarus, each accompanied by an explanation of how they made good on their second chance.
The nature of each example’s fall from grace varies — Ali’s conscientious objection to the Vietnam War is arguably a far cry from football star Vick’s dogfighting days or evangelist Swaggart’s consorting with prostitutes — but Shepherd said he thinks voters will connect to his message of not letting a mistake hold you back.
“Everybody can relate to that,” he said, adding that his candidacy could serve as an inspiration “for all the other people out there who need a second chance.”
Before that’s even a possibility, though, Shepherd and his attorneys will need better luck at the hearings scheduled for next week.
Enright’s Friday ruling didn’t deal with Shepherd’s contention that the 1997 state constitutional amendment that made it illegal for convicted felons to run for office for 15 years after completing their sentence was missing a provision passed by the Legislature and is therefore null and void.
It didn’t even deal with whether his challenge to the amendment’s validity deserves to be fast-tracked because of the election or whether — as attorneys for the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office and the state Attorney General’s Office contend — it should follow the traditional legal process, which would rule out a decision in time for Shepherd to run in this fall’s election.
Instead, Enright confirmed with a conference call that the AG’s Office hadn’t been served in time for a fair proceeding and swiftly ruled in favor of the challenge to Shepherd’s candidacy, based on the way the constitution now reads.
On Tuesday, a state district judge in Baton Rouge will hold a hearing on whether to strike down the constitutional provision, while Shepherd’s appeal of Friday’s ruling, which will be taken up by the state 5th Circuit Court of Appeal by Wednesday, will revisit the state’s challenge to his candidacy and the appropriate timetable for deciding it.
If that appeal is unsuccessful, a stay Enright put on his order removing Shepherd’s name from the ballot will be lifted, and the race to represent Harvey, Marrero and the Woodmere subdivision in the Legislature will be down to two candidates: incumbent Ebony Woodruff and Rodney Lyons Sr.
And Shepherd will have to wait for another day to join the ranks of Lazarus, Ali, Vick and Clinton.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.