The long-running lawsuit between Rev. Jimmy Swaggart’s Family Worship Center Church and a local investor group that has been trying to acquire a 60-acre parcel on the church campus since 2005 is headed back to the 19th Judicial District Court for a new trial in November.
The new trial date, Nov. 18, comes several months after the Louisiana Supreme Court refused a request by attorneys for the investor group, Health Science Park, to review a June 2018 ruling by the the First Circuit Court of Appeals that delivered a major blow to their case.
That ruling overturned a 2016 judgment giving HSP the right to acquire the Swaggart property—one of the last large, undeveloped tracts of land along Bluebonnet Boulevard—for the pre-Katrina price the two sides had agreed upon in mid-2005. The judgement, which came after a three-day jury trial in 19th Judicial District Court, also ordered Swaggart to pay HSP $4.4 million in damages, plus interest. At the time, HSP heralded the ruling as a huge victory.
But a First Circuit panel ruled in early 2018 that the trial court erred in the way it handled a controversial piece of evidence dealing with the purchase option on the property and sent the case back to 19th Judicial District Court for a new trial.
Late August, HSP attorney Claude Reynaud unsuccessfully sought a rehearing from the First Circuit so took the matter to the Supreme Court, which also denied his petition. That means the case will be tried again before Judge William Morvant, more than 3.5 years after the initial trial.
“They’re not real happy about it,” Reynaud says of his clients, businessmen Steve Jones and Terry Jones, who are not related. “But they’ve been fighting this since 2005. They’re in it for the long haul.”
Because the trial will be a jury trial, Reynaud will have to essentially lay out the same case that he did during the 2016 trial, calling the same witnesses and establishing the same facts.
“The approach may be a little different but it will be the same witnesses to the extent that they’re all around,” he says. “If it was a judge trial you could streamline because none of the evidentiary rulings were overturned on appeal. It was just a pretrial motion. But a new jury has to rehear the entire story.”