UPDATE: Nov. 4, 12:40 p.m.: A day after dropping a suit against the Jefferson Parish Registrar of Voters, the campaign to recall Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni has filed suit against Clerk of Court Jon Gegenheimer in the dispute over how close volunteers can get to polling places on election day.
The suit, filed in 24th Judicial District Court, seeks to block Gegenheimer's office from enforcing a state law that would prohibit the collection of signatures within 600 feet of polling places during voting for the presidential election on Tuesday.
Robert Evans III, a Metairie attorney spearheading the recall petition against Yenni, agreed to drop a suit against the Registrar of Voters Dennis DiMarco on Thursday. But he decided to sue the Clerk of Court that evening after being informed by The New Orleans Advocate that it is the Jefferson Parish Sheriff, via any complaints forwarded to it by Gegenheimer's office, that is the enforcement authority on such matters and that Gegenheimer had indicated he would enforce the 600 foot rule.
Evans wants volunteers to get as close as 100 feet and says a Louisiana Supreme Court decision allows them to do so.
Gegenheimer said on Friday that his will enforce the law, as written.
"As it stands, the AG is standing by his opinion, which is the 600 foot rule, and that's all we have to go on," he said.
The hearing is scheduled for Nov. 14, which would take the issue out of play for the primary election but not for runoffs scheduled for Dec. 10.
UPDATE: 4:30 p.m.: The judge who accepted the motion to dismiss the lawsuit that the Recall Yenni campaign filed against the Jefferson Parish Registrar of Voters has amended the entry on the ruling to omit a statement that volunteers can come as close as 100 feet.
The removal of that language would suggest the agreement touted by Metairie attorney and recall campaign leader Robert Evans III on Thursday morning was not what it seemed.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Jeff Landry said the AG's office, Evans and Judge Glenn Ansardi had a conference following the Thursday morning hearing. Shortly after, Ansardi filed a corrected version of the minute entry in the court record. That version still states that neither Jefferson Registrar of Voters Dennis DiMarco nor the AG's office have enforcement authority of the state statute governing how far volunteers have to stay from polling stations, but it no longer states that volunteers are allowed to be 100 feet from polling places.
That 100-foot limit was the apparent victory for the Recall Yenni campaign this morning, though the order signed by the judge says nothing the central point of contention in the debate: whether volunteers must stay 600 feet away or 100 feet away.
The enforcement authority on such issues is the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office. Any such problems would be reported to the sheriff by the Clerk of Court's Office.
Evans said late Thursday that the removal of the explicit statement that volunteers can get as close as 100 feet doesn't bother him and that he still considers the matter settled in his favor.
“It’s still an unconstitutional statute," he said. "I’m still allowed to get (as close as) 100 feet.”
Judge Ansardi's office could not be reached for comment late Thursday.
ORIGINAL STORY: Citing accusations of potential bias, the Jefferson Parish registrar of voters said Thursday that he is “leaning” toward recusing himself from involvement in certifying the necessary signatures to put a recall petition against Parish President Mike Yenni before voters.
As the registrar, Dennis DiMarco sits on the committee that would be in charge of validating the necessary signatures. But the head of the campaign to oust Yenni from office has questioned whether DiMarco can be impartial, given his friendship and political ties to Yenni, who recently admitted sending "improper" text messages to a teenage boy.
DiMarco has insisted that he is no closer to Yenni than he has been with previous parish leaders, but said Thursday he is open to stepping aside in order to remove all doubt on the issue.
He said he would talk it over with members of the Parish Council before making a final decision.
"It's not that I believe I can't do my job," DiMarco said. "But somebody has to put an end to this madness."
If DiMarco does recuse himself, the four remaining parish Board of Elections officials would be tasked with reviewing the signatures in question. They are parish Clerk of Court Jon Gegenheimer, gubernatorial appointee Michael M. Davis, parish Democratic Party Chairman David Gereighty and parish GOP Chairwoman Polly Thomas.
In the meantime, the head of the recall petition drive and agreed to dismiss a lawsuit over whether workers gathering signatures for the petition on election day can come as close as 100 feet from polling stations.
Leaders of the campaign to recall Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni filed a lawsuit late…
The Recall Yenni campaign, led by Metairie attorney Robert Evans III, and DiMarco's office filed a joint motion to dismiss suits the recall campaign filed in Jefferson Parish and Baton Rouge. Those motions were granted Thursday morning.
Evans said he spoke with Attorney General Jeff Landry's office Wednesday night following a dispute last week between petitioners and DiMarco's office about how close recall volunteers can get to polling places during early voting for the Nov. 8 election.
DiMarco cited state law saying that limit is 600 feet. But Evans’ camp cited a 1995 state Supreme Court decision that they said found bans on political expression within 600 feet to be unconstitutionally broad.
The two sides didn't come to an agreement about whether the law is 600 feet or 100 feet so much as they agreed the 100-foot standard is the one that will be enforced on election day.
Before landing a lifetime appointment as registrar from the Parish Council in 1998, DiMarco served as the parish's finance chief under Yenni's grandfather and uncle, former parish presidents Joseph S. Yenni and Michael J. Yenni Sr. During that time, Evans' father was chairman of the Parish Council.
DiMarco also spent a couple of years as the top aide to former Parish President Tim Coulon. Later, he was named to transition teams assembled after Mike Yenni was first elected Kenner mayor in 2010 and then parish president last year.
In another episode last week, Evans learned DiMarco kept a special voting machine for a select few who wanted to cast early ballots without waiting in line. Evans reported DiMarco to authorities who seized the machine, citing a law that requires all voting devices to be in public view and equally accessible to all voters.
Evans on Wednesday asked the Parish Council to ratify a resolution asking the state to rescind DiMarco's lifetime appointment as registrar over the distance debate and the special voting machine. The Parish Council did not immediately act.
DiMarco has said he is dismayed at the occasionally "nasty" tone that has developed between him and Evans since the disagreement over the 600-foot distance erupted, but the registrar insisted he took nothing personally.
"If after all of this Robby Evans wants to have a cup of coffee, I'd be happy to do so," he said.
To call the election that could oust Yenni from office, the recall petition would need signatures from roughly 90,000 of Jefferson Parish's 270,000 registered voters. Evans this week said the petition has about one-third of the signatures needed.