Louisiana's 1st Circuit Court of Appeal on Thursday upheld a district court judge's ruling that Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and Metro Councilman LaMont Cole can remain as plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the incorporation of the city of St. George.

A three-judge panel simply denied an appeal from the attorneys for the St. George organizers who sought to reverse District Court Judge William Morvant's March ruling that the mayor and Cole could legally challenge the controversial incorporation.

"They’ve lost every major battle so far. And they will continue as far as I’m concerned," attorney Mary Olive Pierson, who leading the team of lawyers representing the Broome and others, said Thursday moments after the 1st Circuit issued its decision.

Drew Murrell, spokesman for the St. George proponents, shrugged off the loss saying their team of lawyers will continue working on defending the October 2019 election. That month, 54% of the voters living within the boundaries of the proposed city in southeast East Baton Rouge Parish voted in favor of the incorporation.

“Once again we’d just like to point out there was a lawful election (and) challenging that vote is challenging the right of the people who voted,” Murrell said. “That’s voter suppression.”

The lawsuit doesn’t seek to reverse the election results. The lawsuit, in which attorney Lewis Unglesby is also a plaintiff, asks the court to deny the incorporation because of the negative financial impact St. George's creation would have on the rest of the city-parish.

Last year, Broome's administration released a study saying the city-parish would lose $48.3 million annually if the St. George incorporation happens. It said government agencies would need to make across-the-board cuts of at least 18%.

St. George's attorneys filed exceptions in response asking the court to toss the case. Those attorneys tried to argue Broome lacked the authority to contest the incorporation because she's not the governing authority of Baton Rouge, which state law mandates to challenge incorporations.

The St. George attorneys also asserted Cole needed approval from the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council first before he could jump in as a plaintiff, which he had not obtained.

But in his ruling back in March, Morvant said Louisiana Revised Statute 33:4 gives Broome and Cole the right to contest the incorporation as elected officials of the governing authority that might be adversely affected by the incorporation.

Thursday’s 1st Circuit decision now means the case can resume what is expected to be a prolonged legal battle within the courts system.


Email Terry Jones at tjones@theadvocate.com