Sen. eric LaFleur, left, D-Ville Platte, talks with Sen. conrad Appel, right, R-Metairie, in a scene during activity in the Louisiana Senate, Thursday, April 20, 2017.

An attack ad blasting a military buddy of Gov. John Bel Edwards over his bidding on state coastal work must be temporarily taken off the airwaves while a new lawsuit plays out, a judge ruled Wednesday, as the dispute heats up in the waning days of the governor’s race.

A voter named Linda Kocher filed the lawsuit in Orleans Parish district court court against Truth in Politics, a political organization founded by Lane Grigsby, and Causeway Connection PAC, a group that Republican state Sen. Conrad Appel started shortly after the primary election for governor.

Truth in Politics launched the attack ad last week, accusing Edwards’ West Point friend Murray Starkel of landing a $65 million contract for coastal work. But the ad was pulled and replaced with a new version after the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority pointed out neither Starkel, nor any other bidder, was awarded the contract in question. Appel’s PAC also began running the new version of the ad this week.

Judge Nakisha Ervin-Knott granted a temporary restraining order Wednesday requiring the ads to be taken down while the suit plays out. Appel, who was one of the few state lawmakers to endorse Edwards’ Republican challenger Eddie Rispone early on in the race, said the groups will swiftly appeal the decision. 

The runoff election for governor is Saturday. 

“We disagree with the Court’s ruling today and believe that our ads are 100 percent truthful,” Appel said in a statement. “The public deserves to know if the governor’s best friend was engaged in backroom deals that have him poised to earn up to $250 million in state tax dollars. While we respect the process and the court, the advertisements were legitimate free speech and fully sourced. Even the Governor’s former CPRA Executive Director issued a written statement confirming the truthfulness of our message." 

Lawyers representing Kocher did not immediately return messages seeking comment. 

Starkel, who bid on state coastal restoration work through his firm Ecological Service Partners, signed an affidavit in the lawsuit batting back some of the claims in the ad, which painted his company as a sham. The lawsuit claims the ads are “patently and demonstrably false.”

Truth in Politics on Wednesday touted a statement from a former executive director of CPRA, Michael Ellison, that criticized the agency’s performance-based contracting system and said Starkel’s firm is one of six companies allowed to bid on upcoming projects.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit included their own statement from Lawrence Haase, the current head of the CPRA, that said Starkel’s firm was never issued a contract by agency. 

The original ad claimed Starkel “landed” a contract worth up to $65 million. The new version says Starkel “scores big” and is “poised to cash in.”

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