A judge on Monday ruled that the Louisiana Secretary of State and six residents may intervene in a lawsuit challenging the validity of a Lafayette City-Parish Council ordinance correcting district errors created with passage of a Dec. 8 home rule charter amendment.
Fifteenth Judicial District Judge John Trahan, however, rejected a request by the six residents and city-parish attorneys to throw out the lawsuit because it was filed more than 30 days after the Dec. 8 election results were certified.
The main question to be answered is whether an ordinance adopted March 26 by the Lafayette City-Parish Council is sufficient to correct errors and omissions in council district descriptions associated with the voter-approved home rule charter amendment, or whether all or part the charter amendment should go back to voters with the corrected district descriptions, or whether another remedy exists.
At the center of Monday's court hearing was whether the April 5 lawsuit by businessman Keith Kishbaugh and an April 10 request by the Louisiana Secretary of State Office to intervene in the lawsuit call into question the Dec. 8 election or the constitutionality of correcting voter district lines with an ordinance instead of a vote of residents.
Assistant City-Parish Attorney Mike Hebert argued Monday that the lawsuit to halt implementation of the council ordinance was filed well past the 30 days allowed by law to challenge an election. He said the lawsuit, a "disguised challenge" to the Dec. 8 election results, should be thrown out.
Trahan countered that, if the problem is a constitutional error, there has to be time to challenge it beyond the 30-day time frame.
Voters did not cast ballots Dec. 8 on the district lines, Hebert said. The district lines and precincts were not on the ballot. Lafayette Consolidated Government wants Trahan to rule on whether the March 26 ordinance correcting the districts is valid or not and take out of consideration the idea of calling a new election on the charter amendment, he said.
"Our system of government worked on Dec. 8," Hebert said. The lawsuit puts the election results at risk, he said.
"They can do that," Assistant Louisiana Attorney General Emily Andrews, representing Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, said. If the electorate votes again on the charter amendment and collectively changes its mind, "That's not a risk. That's democracy," she said.
The secretary is not challenging the Dec. 8 election, Andrews said, and is not calling for another election. If the ordinance is declared null and void, the remedy is up to city-parish officials, she said.
If Trahan halts the Oct. 12 election for new city and parish council members and current city-parish council members' terms expire, Andrews said she believes the current charter remains in effect.
Lane Roy, a Lafayette attorney representing Kishbaugh, said redrawing district lines must be done by a vote of the people, not by council ordinance. Otherwise, he said, the council could redistrict at every council meeting.
"If it had to go to the people the first time, it has to go to the people again," Roy said.
Arguments on the merits of the lawsuit will be heard May 8 by Trahan.
Qualifying is Aug. 6-8 for the new city and parish council seats. The election is Oct. 12.
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