St. George squabble headed to hearing later this spring

The two sides in the court battle over the incorporation of the prospective city of St. George have hit a snag in the ongoing discovery process.

In a motion filed in late March, the attorney for Mayor Sharon Weston Broome and Metro Council member Lamont Cole, who are challenging the incorporation, claims the named defendants in the case, St. George organizers Norman Browning and Chris Rials, are now claiming they do not represent in the lawsuit the 14,585 people in the prospective city who voted to incorporate but, rather, only themselves as individuals.

In court documents, Broome’s attorney, Mary Olive Pierson, cites a letter from Browning’s and Rials’ attorneys, Christina Peck and Sheri Morris, responding to a deposition request by saying, “there is no organization known as the ‘the Petitioners to Incorporate the proposed City of St George’ to respond to the Notice of Records Deposition or to designate anyone to testify on its behalf … The Petitioners to Incorporate the Proposed City of St. George consist of 14,585 electors … these electors are not parties to these proceedings and we are not legal counsel to any of these electors except Norman Browning and Chris Rials.”  

The issue is potentially significant, Pierson argues, because if Peck and Morris only represent Browning and Rials as individuals, not as agents of the prospective city, then the people of St. George have no one fighting for their interests in the incorporation lawsuit.

“I just want to have someone legitimately on the other side of this case so if I get a judgment it’s worth something,” Pierson says. “If there is nobody over there that is legitimate and adequately represented then what good is a judgment going to do for me?”

St. George organizers counter that the issue is a “frivolous attempt to sling mud” and to try to drag out the discovery process. St. George spokesman Drew Murrell says Browning and Rials have continued to cooperate with requests seeking information and testimony from depositions, but says the deposition in question requests information from the “petitioners of St. George,” which comprises nearly 15,000 individuals.

“It’s like saying, ‘I want to depose the voters.’ That’s not just Norman and Chris,” Murrell says. “That’s a different issue altogether. Sheri cannot schedule them for anything. They are not party to the lawsuit. This is a preemptive strike because, perhaps, they’re not fulfilling their end of the bargain in this lawsuit.”

The issue will now have to go before 19th Judicial District Court Judge William Morvant for a hearing. No date has been set, but attorneys expect a hearing will be scheduled for some time in May.

The latest dustup underscores how long and drawn out the court fight over incorporation continues to be. It’s been some 18 months since the October 2019 election in which voters in the prospective city approved incorporation. Just one month later, the legal challenge began.

But so far, no trial date has been set. Even once a trial is scheduled and, eventually held, both sides are expected to appeal an unfavorable judgment all the way to the Louisiana Supreme Court, if necessary—a process that could take years.