Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts and Louis Congemi, one of his two challengers in the Oct. 24 election, agreed Friday to suspend any negative campaigning aimed at each other over the weekend.
The deal came after a hearing Friday on a lawsuit that Roberts filed accusing Congemi of making false accusations in his commercials, which claim that Roberts has not paid all of his taxes.
Congemi’s attorney succeeded Friday in getting a judge to throw out the lawsuit on a technicality. But the judge allowed Roberts to come back with corrected paperwork, which he did in less than an hour.
Largely because of a death in Congemi’s family earlier in the day, both sides agreed to postpone further legal arguments until Monday and suspend any attack ads until then.
Roberts wants Congemi to stop running two commercials that have aired on television and social media. One asserts that Roberts didn’t pay his taxes for five years beginning in 2010, and the other says simply that Roberts doesn’t “pay no stinking taxes.”
The commercials repeat allegations contained in a lawsuit last month that sought to disqualify Roberts from running for another term in office on the basis that he had not filed necessary state income tax returns when he signed up for the race.
The lawsuit was dismissed after a judge heard testimony that Roberts had mailed his returns shortly before he signed up to run and that the state Department of Revenue had received those documents. Roberts said he waited as long as he did to file the returns because he was appealing an issue he had with the Internal Revenue Service. He also said his returns resulted in a significant refund.
On Friday, Congemi’s attorney, Stephen Gelé, argued in court that Congemi’s commercials were shielded by free speech protections that cover hyperbole and opinion.
One of Roberts’ attorneys, Steven Mauterer, countered that the commercials broke a state law barring political candidates from making statements that they either know or should know are false.
Gelé did persuade Jefferson Parish Judge Scott Schlegel to dismiss the lawsuit because the papers spelling it out said Congemi’s commercials were false and misleading but never explicitly asserted that Roberts had paid his taxes.
Schlegel gave Roberts 15 days to file amended papers. His lawyers walked across the street to their offices and were back in less than an hour.
The two sides then finalized their agreement to suspend all negative phone calls and ads on print, radio, television and social media for the weekend, and Gelé did not object to arguing the suit Monday.
One thing that did not come up during Friday’s hearing was a request from Roberts that Congemi — a former Kenner mayor and Parish Council member — be held in contempt of court and jailed for not showing up to give a deposition Thursday. That request seems to have been put on hold indefinitely.
Also running for Roberts’ seat in the Oct. 24 primary is former Parish Councilman Jimmy Lawson.