By filing a lawsuit seeking to compel one of his two challengers in the Oct. 24 primary to cancel a pair of political commercials that accuse him of not paying his taxes, at-large Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts is merely trying to disrupt his opponent’s preparation for the election, defendant Louis Congemi argued Thursday in a reply to Roberts’ suit.
Congemi denied Roberts’ claim that the commercials contain “false and misleading statements,” which would violate state election laws.
He asked a judge to prevent him from being forced to testify in a deposition, arguing he did not have enough time to adequately prepare or to conduct his own depositions of Roberts or others close to him. And, in a separate request Thursday, he asked that Roberts’ case be dismissed immediately, saying the commercials are shielded by free speech protections.
“Roberts fears a full airing of the truth in the ... election and has resorted to running to the courts to protect him from his own past and deny or inhibit the free speech rights of his opponent,” attorney Stephen Gelé said in one of the filings he prepared on behalf of Congemi, a former Kenner mayor and Parish Council member.
“Allowing such tactics to succeed would encourage candidates who desire to quash free speech and gain tactical advantage in an election to burden their opponents and the courts with demands for immediate and intrusive (proceedings),” Gelé wrote.
Roberts’ attorney, Wiley Beevers, filed a motion saying Congemi should be punished for failing to show up Thursday morning for a deposition for which he had been served with a subpoena. Beevers asked for Congemi to be held in contempt and jailed.
Roberts’ and Congemi’s requests, as well as the suit itself, are set to be heard Friday afternoon by 24th Judicial District Court Judge Scott Schlegel.
Roberts’ lawsuit seeks the permanent removal of two commercials paid for by Congemi’s campaign that have aired on television and been posted on social media.
Those allegations echo ones contained in a lawsuit filed last month that accused Roberts of signing up to run for another term in office without having filed several necessary state income tax returns. That lawsuit, which sought to disqualify Roberts from his re-election run, was dismissed after a judge heard testimony that the councilman mailed his returns not long before he signed up to run and that the state Department of Revenue had received those documents.
Roberts testified that he mailed his income tax returns for 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 on Sept. 9, the same day he signed up to run again. He said he filed for an extension to file his 2014 return.
Roberts testified that he waited to file his returns while he successfully appealed a $90,000 lien placed on his property over 2008 and 2009 taxes. In his appeal, Roberts argued that amount should have been subtracted from previous losses incurred by a pair of sandwich shops he was involved in.
Roberts testified that the tax returns he filed resulted in a significant refund for him.
Joining Roberts and Congemi in the race is Jimmy Lawson, also a former Parish Council member.