Mandeville Mayor Donald Villere is gearing up for what promises to be a bruising re-election campaign this spring. But even as he battles Councilman Rick Danielson for the city’s top spot, Villere will have to fight on a second front: The state Board of Ethics has appealed a September decision by a three-judge administrative law panel to dismiss charges against Villere stemming from his first campaign in 2010 — one he won by just three votes out of more than 2,500 cast.
Those charges — arising from campaign statements Villere made about his opponent, Trilby Lenfant — were dismissed after the Ethics Adjudicatory Board determined that the Ethics Board had not met the legal standard required and that the board could not use evidence it collected after it filed formal charges.
The Ethics Board’s appeal, filed Jan. 12 in the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge, argues that the review panel erred when it refused to consider evidence collected after the charges were filed.
The appeal also says the EAB ignored evidence that Villere had acted with “actual malice — reckless disregard for the truth, and a high degree of awareness of the probable falsity of the statements” and whether he “entertained serious doubts as to the truth of his publication.”
At the heart of the issue are statements Villere made in a flier and email accusing Lenfant, among other things, of paying absurdly low property taxes and voting as a city councilwoman in favor of contracts that went to her husband’s business partner. The Ethics Board said Villere should have known that some of the statements were not true.
Lenfant filed a complaint with the Ethics Board, which, almost a year later, filed two charges against Villere.
But in September, the EAB threw out the charges, saying the Ethics Board has one year from the date of a complaint to collect evidence, and that information collected after that period couldn’t be considered. It also said the Ethics Board hadn’t met the legal standard of proving guilt based on the facts in evidence.
Villere said Tuesday that he hadn’t seen the appeal but that “it seems pretty political in nature.”
He also said he stands by his statements during that tense 2010 campaign. “Everything I put in that thing was true,” he said.
The appeal wasn’t a surprise. The Ethics Board voted unanimously in October to appeal the EAB’s decision, said Kathleen Allen, an attorney for the Ethics Board. If the 1st Circuit grants the appeal, the matter would likely be remanded back to the Ethics Adjudicatory Board for a rehearing, she said.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.