St. George organizers passing the hat to fund legal defense against incorporation challenge

    Organizers of the city of St. George have started raising money to help cover legal bills that are expected to mount as they defend a lawsuit challenging their effort to incorporate.

    Earlier today, St. George organizer Chris Rials—who, along with Norman Browning, was sued Nov. 4 by Mayor Sharon Weston Broome and two other plaintiffs—posted a message on the St George community Facebook page, an unofficial site, soliciting funds.

    “Mayor Sharon Weston Broome, funded by wealthy Baton Rouge elites, is suing Norman Browning and me,” the post reads. “An elected official is asking the courts to overturn the lawful election to incorporate the City of St. George. No private citizen should ever be sued for following the law. … the St. George organizers need your contributions now to defend and secure the election won on Oct. 12.”

    The official City of St. George Facebook page, meanwhile, posted a link to an online site, where supporters can donate to the legal defense fund, and last night, organizers held a meeting to discuss their fundraising strategy.

    “It was a meeting, yes, but not a fundraiser per se—not like a bunch of rich Baton Rouge elites meeting at the City Club,” says St. George spokesman Drew Murrell, referring to an Oct. 25 breakfast meeting at the City Club, at which Broome discussed her legal strategy with dozens of business leaders and solicited their financial support. “We had a bunch of volunteers, the usual, show up—teachers, preachers and firemen.”  

    Broome’s suit, which the mayor and her attorney have said will not be funded using public tax dollars, is based on a provision in state law, La. Rev. 33:4, that lays out the grounds for challenging a municipal incorporation.

    Lead attorney Mary Olive Pierson, who is handling the suit pro bono, says she had no choice but to name the St. George organizers as defendants in the suit because the law states the “chairperson” of an incorporation petition shall be served with a suit. Besides, there is no official municipality yet to sue.

    “There is no one else we can sue because St. George is just some vapid idea in the heads of Chris Rials and Norman Browning, who are unelected, self-appointed and represent no one but themselves.”

    Murrell says he cannot estimate how much St. George needs to raise to fight the lawsuit, which has been assigned to 19th Judicial District Court Judge William Morvant, and any others that may follow.

    Rials and Browning were served with the suit today, court records show. No date for an initial hearing has been set.

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