Lionel “Lon” Burns, the only candidate challenging Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro for his job in upcoming elections, won another round in court Wednesday in his fight to stay on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Burns, a former Orleans Parish prosecutor, faces a legal challenge on the grounds that he did not file state tax returns over the past few years, a requirement for all candidates. But the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal decided Wednesday he can stay in the race, upholding a ruling by Civil District Court Judge Tiffany Chase by a vote of 8-3.
Both Chase and a majority of the appeals court judges said Burns had only to show that he had filed his taxes to the best of his knowledge — not that those tax returns actually got to the Louisiana Department of Revenue.
At the original trial in Chase’s court, a state employee testified that the department did not have any record of tax returns from Burns from 2010 through 2013. Burns asked for another day in order to bring his tax preparer, Monica Jackson, to the stand, but Chase declined and ruled that he was ineligible to run.
On appeal, the 4th Circuit ruled that the district court had “abused its discretion” when it refused to give Burns any additional time.
After hearing testimony last week from Jackson, who confirmed that she prepared Burns’ previously unfiled tax returns for 2010 through 2013 and dropped them off at a post office last month, Chase reversed her earlier ruling, deciding Burns could run.
Anthony Russo, a friend of Cannizzaro’s who brought the challenge against Burns, argued that Jackson’s testimony did not prove that the tax returns ever got filed, only that Burns may have thought they did.
Judge Dennis Bagneris, in his majority opinion for the 4th Circuit, disagreed, saying the election law at issue spells out that a candidate should be disqualified only for making “false certifications” when they sign up to run.
That, Bagneris wrote, means “knowledge by the representing party that material facts have been knowingly misrepresented with the intent to deceive.”
He continued, “We conclude it was not an error of law for the trial court to consider Mr. Burns’ state of mind in deciding if he made a false certification.”