A day after the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office moved to oust him as a candidate in the Oct. 24 primary, convicted felon and former state Sen. Derrick Shepherd outlined Tuesday why he believes he can legally run for election.
The Louisiana constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1997 that banned felons like Shepherd from running for state office within 15 years after being released from prison left out a provision that the Legislature had voted to include in it, Shepherd said in an interview Tuesday.
Though that amendment wouldn’t have applied to him, its exclusion from the language of the amendment voters ratified means the amendment is invalid and he should be allowed to run for the House of Representatives in District 87, he contends.
“When our constitution is to be amended, it must go through a precise, (multiple) step mechanism. Any one of those that have not been followed, the law falls,” Shepherd said. “We have an argument to make that in this particular case, (one of the steps) was missed.”
The constitutional amendment the DA’s Office cited Monday in its petition challenging Shepherd’s bid to unseat District 87 Rep. Ebony Woodruff, D-Harvey, bars convicted felons from competing for state office within 15 years of completing their sentence unless they’ve obtained a pardon. It was proposed by former state Sen. Max Malone, R-Shreveport. Before it was adopted, there was nothing prohibiting candidates with felony convictions on their record from running in elections.
Shepherd said legislators approved a provision to Malone’s proposed amendment stipulating that “a person ... who has been convicted of a felony for which the person was not incarcerated but who received probation for such felony shall be permitted to qualify as a candidate for or hold office after successful completion of the probation period.”
However, Shepherd said, that provision did not make it into the language of the constitutional amendment that was then ratified by a public vote.
“What the people voted on was not what the legislators passed,” Shepherd said. “It was missing a key ingredient.”
Shepherd claimed there is legal precedent finding that an amendment adopted in such a manner is invalid and must undergo the legislative process anew to be revived in proper form.
Shepherd, a 46-year-old Democrat from Marrero, was in his first term as a state senator in 2008 when he resigned and pleaded guilty to laundering more than $140,000 from the sale of fake bonds. He was sentenced to more than three years in prison and was ordered to pay a $45,000 fine.
Before being elected to the Senate in a special election, Shepherd, a lawyer, had served a partial term as the House District 87 representative.
Woodruff — who couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday — won election to her seat in 2013 after Shepherd’s successor, Girod Jackson, resigned following charges of fraud and failure to pay taxes.
Shepherd said he is challenging Woodruff because the impoverished district needs different leadership. “We need leadership that shows ... those people that they are precious and should be represented,” he said. One other candidate, Rodney Lyons Sr., also is seeking Woodruff’s seat.
Asked whether voters could trust him again, given his criminal record, Shepherd said he left prison a different person.
“I live right; I eat right; I think right,” he said. “The last thing on my mind (is) to get back and do something nefarious.”