A Jefferson Parish state judge will wait until Tuesday before ruling on a lawsuit seeking to disqualify Parish Councilman Chris Roberts over state income tax returns and campaign finance reports that the plaintiff alleges were filed late.
Plaintiff Stephen Petit accuses Roberts of neither filing his previous five state income tax returns nor asking for an extension of time to file in the last two years, which is grounds for disqualification. He also accuses Roberts of not filing three campaign finance reports he owed the state Ethics Administration until a few hours after he signed up to run for re-election on Sept. 9, which Petit argues is also grounds for disqualification.
During a hearing that lasted almost the entire business day Monday in front of 24th Judicial District Court Judge Lee Faulkner, Roberts testified that he mailed off his income tax returns for 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 on Sept. 9 before he went to sign up for re-election.
He asked for an extension to file his 2014 return using TurboTax, he said. Roberts said he delayed filing for his returns so long because he was seeking clarity on an issue related to the calculation of his taxes.
Roberts also testified that he believed a person he pays to prepare his campaign finance reports had filed them before he signed up for the fall election. But that person didn’t file them until after he signed up, said Roberts, who added that he didn’t think that should be a problem because it was still ahead of the race’s Sept. 10 qualifying deadline.
Roberts had a number of political allies, including Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson and Jean Lafitte Mayor Tim Kerner, testify that the councilman had told them during the week of qualifying that his paperwork was in order as far as he knew. Lawson, Kerner and the others also testified about what they called Roberts’ reputation for being truthful.
Yet Vanessa LaFleur, the Louisiana Department of Revenue’s director of policy and legislative services, testified that her agency didn’t receive Roberts’ 2010-2013 income tax returns until Sept. 14, five days after he signed up to run. Under questioning by Petit’s attorney, Scott McQuaig, LaFleur said that her department doesn’t consider tax returns officially filed until they are received by the agency.
McQuaig argued that Roberts had to certify on his qualifying papers that he owed no campaign finance reports or state income tax returns. Yet the fact that Roberts filed four state income tax returns and three campaign finance reports after signing up for re-election shows he did owe those documents, and the penalty for candidates who supply incorrect statements on qualifying forms is disqualification, McQuaig said.
Roberts’ attorney, Steven Mauterer, argued that Faulkner was bound by law to interpret election regulations in a way that gave constituents the widest possible field of candidates. Mauterer said nothing the plaintiff’s side presented disputed Roberts’ testimony — that, to the best of the councilman’s knowledge, he had taken care of his paperwork when he signed up to run for another term.
Two other candidates are running for Roberts’ at-large Parish Council seat: ex-Kenner Mayor Louis Congemi and Jimmy Lawson, who are both former Parish Council members. Congemi’s candidacy was also challenged by a plaintiff who alleged that the former Kenner mayor had failed to file his campaign finance reports on time, but 24th Judicial District Court Judge June Darensburg dismissed that lawsuit on Monday.
Roberts was targeted in separate litigation that sought to disqualify him and accused him of providing an incorrect home address on his qualifying forms. That claim — filed in two separate but identical lawsuits in 24th Judicial District Court — was dismissed by Judges Raymond Steib and Stephen Enright when the plaintiff, Connie Montgomery, failed to show up for proceedings scheduled for Monday.
Several 24th Judicial District Court judges recused themselves from hearing Petit’s lawsuit against Roberts before it made its way into Faulkner’s courtroom.