St. George challenges Baton Rouge mayor’s right to sue

    An attorney for the organizers of St. George says Mayor Sharon Weston Broome, Metro Council member Lamont Cole and two other plaintiffs lack the legal standing to sue her clients in 19th Judicial District Court.

    It’s one of several arguments attorney Sheri Morris makes in court documents, filed Monday, taking issue with Broome’s Nov. 8 lawsuit challenging the St. George incorporation.

    Morris also argues the plaintiffs—Broome, Cole, activist M.E. Cormier, who lives in the city of Baton Rouge, and attorney Lewis Unglesby, who lives within the proposed St. George boundaries—failed to follow the procedure for challenging the outcome of an election under state election law.

    Also, Morris argues, the mayor has no right to ask the court to block the incorporation from moving forward and to seek a parishwide election to amend the parish Plan of Government to allow the creation of a fifth city. Broome’s lawsuit says the Plan of Government prohibits the creation of any new village, town or city in East Baton Rouge Parish. Morris says the courts have struck down that provision as unconstitutional.

    The St. George court filing comes nearly one month after Broome sued St. George organizers Norman Browning and Chris Rials under a provision of state law that lays out the procedure for challenging a proposed municipal incorporation. That provision allows plaintiffs with legal standing—those who would be adversely affected by the creation of a new municipality—to force the new city’s organizers to demonstrate they can provide the services promised to voters in a reasonable amount of time.

    Documents filed Monday do not address any of those issues. Rather, they want the case thrown out on the grounds that Broome and the others have no legal standing to sue.

    Morris cites a provision of the incorporation statute that says a challenge can only be brought by a member of the “governing authority” of a neighboring parish or city that would be negatively impacted by the incorporation.

    Broome, Morris argues, is the chief executive of the parish as mayor president, but is not a member of the governing authority. Cole, as a Metro Council member, is a member of the governing authority, she acknowledges, but says he cannot sue as an individual and instead needs approval from the entire council.

    Morris also raises issues about the lawsuit’s ability to challenge election results. But attorney Mary Olive Pierson, who is suing on behalf of Broome, notes that the mayor’s suit clearly doesn’t challenge the outcome of the election or even raise the issue of the legitimacy of the vote.

    “This is not an election contest under the election code,” she says. “This is a challenge to the incorporation of St. George, not the election. They are living in a parallel universe.”

    Earlier Monday, Pierson filed court documents attempting to hold Morris and her clients in default for missing the deadline to respond to her suit. That 15-day deadline was Nov. 27.

    Pierson says that motion is now moot.

    An initial hearing date in the case has not yet been set by 19th Judicial District Court Judge William Morvant. 


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