The gloves came off last week as New Orleans residents filed lawsuits attempting to oust seven candidates for various municipal and parish offices, a week after qualifying ended for the fall elections.
Candidates running for City Council Districts D and E, City Council at-large Division 1, sheriff, assessor and clerk of Criminal District Court were targeted in suits that mainly hinged on the question of unfiled tax returns.
The challenges mostly seek to disqualify political newcomers running in races against incumbents or veterans seeking a different office.
Among those sued were council candidates Belden “Noonie Man” Batiste, Ernest “Freddie” Charbonnet, Kenneth Cutno and Eldon “El” Anderson.
Also sued were Danil Faust, who hopes to unseat Clerk of Criminal District Court Arthur Morrell; Anthony Brown, who is challenging Assessor Erroll Williams; and Fredrick "Freddy" Brooks, the lone challenger to Sheriff Marlin Gusman.
Such suits are filed by private citizens, often with no obvious political ties, but are designed to benefit other candidates in the various races, especially in two-candidate fields, such as those for sheriff, assessor and clerk.
Cutno, who along with Anderson, state Rep. Helena Moreno and state Rep. Joseph Bouie is running to replace the term-limited Stacy Head in at-large Division 1, said "the political machine" is suing him because they want to embarrass him and distract from the race's real issues.
"The disqualification of a candidate should be the people’s responsibility, not for a judge in a courtroom," Cutno said.
David Thompson's suit claims that Cutno has not filed state income tax returns for five of the past six years, a violation of state rules for qualifying to run for office. Cutno said he is current on all of his taxes.
Thompson and Richard Perque also challenged the candidacy of Anderson in the same race. The suit alleges that Anderson did not file his state taxes from 2012 to 2016.
Anderson disputed the claim. "All my taxes are filed," he said. "I guess this is just the game that they do."
"I have all my documentation," he added.
Batiste, who's running in District D and was sued by Rafael Perales and George Bordenave Jr., said he is not required to file tax returns because of his disability.
Charbonnet, one of six candidates in District E, said, "I believe I meet all the requirements on the form that I signed. All those taxes have been filed."
Asked about 2012, when the suit against him said he did not file a state tax return, he said he believes his wife mailed that form.
"This is a rough game, I tell you," he added.
In the assessor's race, Brown's candidacy was challenged by Adam Irvin, Carl Irvin and Lonnie Hammond Jr. The suit claims that Brown did not file his state taxes for the past two years.
"I'm very aware of the machine," Brown said, adding that he looked forward to challenging the allegations in court.
Faust, who is running for clerk of Criminal Court, faces an unusual suit over his candidacy. While most such challenges focus on taxes or residency, the lawsuit filed against Faust by Joseph Broussard focuses on his party registration.
Faust was registered as a Democrat when he signed up but listed his affiliation as Green Party when he filed his qualifying paperwork. He changed his voter registration to the Green Party the following week. The suit argues that Faust should be disqualified for failing to properly declare his affiliation.
Faust said he had been approached by someone who notified him of the issue and told him that if he signed paperwork withdrawing from the race, the qualifying fee he paid could be refunded. That person also threatened to pursue fraud charges and "make an example" out of Faust, the candidate said.
The first challenge filed in this election cycle sought to disqualify Brooks, the lone challenger to Gusman. That suit alleges that Brooks failed to file state taxes, something that Brooks denied.