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Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--Sheriff Marlin Gusman checks his watch for the start of press conference before the first Orleans Parish Prison buses transport prisoners to the new $150 million parish prison built in part with FEMA money in New Orleans, La. Monday, Sept. 14, 2015.

Advocate file photo by MATTHEW HINTON< p>

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman appears to be set to cruise to a fourth full term in office after a judge on Monday disqualified his sole challenger.

Former Sheriff's Office Deputy Fredrick “Freddy” Brooks said Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese ruled against him in a dispute over whether he has filed state income tax returns.

If the decision withstands a possible appeal, Gusman’s re-election to office will be automatic.

State law allows candidates to be removed from the ballot if they have failed to file income taxes. Brooks insisted that he has filed the tax forms in question and said he plans to appeal the decision.

He said after the ruling Monday that he was a "little disappointed now, but it’s a learning experience." 

Brooks has 24 hours to appeal the ruling after the judge issues a formal written ruling, according to a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State's Office.

Brooks said he missed the hearing because he never received a copy of the lawsuit seeking to knock him off the ballot. But an attorney for the plaintiffs challenging his candidacy said he was served through the Clerk of Criminal District Court’s Office, and that deputies also attempted to serve him at his listed address in Algiers.

Gusman has faced years of criticism over his handling of the city's lockup. Opponents have assailed him over inmate deaths, an off-duty detail scheme and plans for a jail expansion. Last year a federal judge ordered him to hand over most of his powers to a court-appointed jail administrator.

Still, analysts said Gusman has maintained a strong base of support in the city, particularly among African-American voters. He also appears to have benefited from the fact that few other potential candidates wanted the headaches that come with running the jail.

The sheriff was first elected to office in 2004 and has won three elections since then. He trounced former Sheriff Charles Foti in a runoff in 2014.

The lawsuit challenging Brooks, 37, was filed last week by Devon Diaz and Victor Robinson. They cited a public-records request by a third person who sought to determine whether Brooks had filed state income taxes.

An official at the state Department of Revenue sent a letter saying, “The department cannot confirm filing for the subject returns for the subject tax periods.”

Brooks called the ballot challenge an example of "dirty tricks" by the sheriff. He maintained that he filed both state and federal tax returns every year.

Diaz and Robinson were represented by the firm of Chehardy Sherman Williams, which also represented the Sheriff’s Office in federal court proceedings for years.

Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.

msledge@theadvocate.com | (504) 636-7432