Ben Zahn was effectively re-elected to the Jefferson Parish Council from District 4 on Monday when his lone opponent was disqualified for not having paid fines she owed to the state Ethics Administration.
Meanwhile, former Kenner Mayor Louis Congemi survived an objection to his candidacy for one of the Parish Council’s two at-large seats, while one of his opponents — incumbent Councilman Chris Roberts — had one of two objections to his candidacy tossed out.
The judge hearing the second challenge to Roberts said he will issue a ruling in the case Tuesday.
In the case of Zahn challenger Scarlett Alaniz, Judge Henry Sullivan, of the 24th Judicial District Court, ruled that she should be disqualified because she had failed to pay more than $700 in fines to the state Ethics Administration when she signed up for the election this month. Alaniz, 45, owed the fines for filing two campaign finance reports late during an unsuccessful run for a Kenner City Council seat last year.
The challenge to Congemi claimed that comments he made in March and April to a New Orleans Advocate reporter about which Parish Council seat he might seek constituted a campaign announcement, thereby triggering deadlines requiring him to file campaign finance reports with the state in April and July.
Congemi’s lawyer, Stephen Gelé, sought to have the case thrown out, arguing there is no definition for what constitutes an “announcement” in Louisiana law and no definitions were offered in the suit outside of the fact that Congemi spoke to a reporter.
In any case, Gelé argued, Congemi’s decision to answer a reporter’s call and discuss what races he was considering did not amount to an official declaration.
Mark Morgan, the attorney for plaintiff Ray St. Pierre, introduced records showing Congemi took campaign volunteers to lunch and also began work with a graphic design firm on a new logo, among other expenditures, during the time period St. Pierre said Congemi should have filed.
Congemi testified that he didn’t consider the initial consultations on a campaign logo in early July to be a campaign expenditure because he wasn’t going to be billed for it until signs were created and purchased later.
In her ruling, 24th Judicial District Court Judge June Darensburg focused on comments made in one of The New Orleans Advocate’s stories in which Congemi said he had not yet made a decision to run and would do so after talking with local officials and conducting some polling.
Whether Roberts will ultimately be allowed to run is still unclear, but one of two lawsuits against him was thrown out Monday after the Kenner lawyer who filed the challenge, Connie Montgomery, failed to show up in court for a scheduled hearing. She cited a medical condition that kept her from attending.
A hearing on the other challenge against Roberts went ahead Monday in front of 24th Judicial District Court Judge Lee Faulkner, with the two sides sparring over whether Roberts should be disqualified for having failed to turn in required campaign finance reports and recent state tax returns before he signed up for the election.
Attorney Stephen Petit, the plaintiff, argues that both infractions should keep Roberts from running.
Roberts testified that he mailed his income tax returns for 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 on Sept. 9 before he went to sign up for re-election the same day, although a Louisiana Department of Revenue official testified that the agency didn’t receive the returns until Sept. 14.
Roberts acknowledged turning in some recent campaign finance reports only after officially signing up to run, but he said he did so later on Sept. 9, and in any event before the end of the official qualifying period the next day.
Petit’s attorney, Scott McQuaig, argued that Roberts was required by law to certify on his qualifying papers that he owed no campaign finance reports or state income tax returns — whether or not they were in the mail.
Several 24th Judicial District Court justices recused themselves from hearing Petit’s lawsuit against Roberts before it made its way to Faulkner, who said he would release his ruling Tuesday morning.
Editor’s note: This story was changed Sept. 22 to clarify what was in the records Mark Morgan produced.