Derrick Shepherd, a candidate for the state House of Representatives despite having pleaded guilty to money laundering seven years ago, is asking state judges in Baton Rouge and Gretna to strike down the provision in the state constitution that prohibits him from running for office.
Shepherd’s candidacy for the District 87 House seat on the West Bank of Jefferson Parish was challenged in 24th Judicial District Court this week by Jefferson District Attorney Paul Connick, and a hearing on the matter is set for Friday morning in Gretna.
On Thursday, Shepherd asked 19th Judicial District Court Judge Wilson Fields in Baton Rouge to stop the Jefferson Parish hearing from going forward and to declare the law that prevents convicted felons from running for office for 15 years after their release from prison is invalid.
Fields denied the restraining order but set a hearing date in Baton Rouge for 11 a.m. Tuesday.
With no restraining order to stop the local proceedings, Shepherd on Thursday afternoon filed a request for a declaratory judgment in the Jefferson Parish case.
He said he hopes to persuade Judge Stephen Enright to find the prohibition against his candidacy “null and void.”
“I’m confident that once I get a hearing on the merits of my argument, I’ll be successful,” he said. “I’m not sure if that will happen tomorrow, but I’m hoping that it will.”
Shepherd, a 46-year-old Democrat from Marrero, contends the version of the constitutional amendment approved by voters is not the same as the one passed by the Legislature. He said a provision added in the legislative process to exempt from the ban convicted felons who were sentenced only to probation wasn’t included in the language of the amendment that went before voters in 1997.
While that exemption does not pertain to Shepherd, he will argue that there is legal precedent for his argument that its omission from the ballot proposition nullifies the entire amendment.
Shepherd spent two years in prison after pleading guilty in 2008 to laundering more than $140,000 from the sale of fake bonds.
He was serving his first term in the state Senate when he pleaded guilty. He had previously served in the House.
Shepherd says he is a reformed man who has paid for and learned from his past misdeeds, and that people he spoke to before joining the race want him to re-enter public service.
He said former state legislators Kyle Green and Shirley Bowler told him in 2013 that the discrepancy rendered the constitutional amendment invalid but that no one had challenged it. That news, he said, led him to declare his candidacy last week for District 87, which includes Harvey, Marrero and the Woodmere subdivision.
The other candidates in the race are former Woodmere Civic Association President Rodney Lyons Sr. and the incumbent, Ebony Woodruff, an attorney. Woodruff was elected to the seat after Shepherd’s successor, Girod Jackson, resigned after being charged with fraud and failure to pay taxes.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.