An attorney representing the organizers of St. George has notified 19th Judicial District Court Judge William Morvant that organizers intend to appeal his decision allowing Mayor Sharon Weston Broom and Metro Council member Lamont Cole to join a lawsuit challenging the prospective city’s right to incorporate.
Following a March 2 court hearing, Morvant ruled that Broome and Cole have legal standing to sue the organizers of St. George but that another plaintiff in the suit—community activist, M.E. Cormier, who lives within the city limits of Baton Rouge—does not have standing to sue.
Though both sides claimed victory after the hearing, as a practical matter the ruling didn’t mean much. That’s because a fourth plaintiff in the lawsuit—attorney Lewis Unglesby, who lives within the footprint of the prospective city of St. George— was never challenged by St. George’s attorney, meaning the suit was going to go forward regardless of whether Unglesby was the sole plaintiff or had others joining him.
Broome’s attorney, Mary Olive Pierson, says appealing Morvant’s ruling will only delay a case that St. George organizers have said they want to quickly put behind them, especially at a time when the courts have been shut down because of the coronavirus and will likely be backlogged for months.
What’s more, Pierson says, given that Unglesby’s status as a plaintiff has never been in question, it doesn’t make sense to drag out the legal battle over Broome’s and Cole’s right to sue.
“They talk a big game about wanting to speed this up and get this over with but every time they turn around they slow it down,” she says. “And even if the First Circuit were to take this up, which they’re not, it isn’t going to matter because we have Unglesby.”
St. George spokesman Drew Murrell, who is an attorney but is not defending the prospective city in the suit, says filing a writ with the First Circuit does not delay the lawsuit, which he says can go forward even while one issue in the case is being appealed.
He says there are many reasons why the prospective city is persisting in its challenge of Broome’s and Cole’s legal standing.
“A lawsuit has many procedural components to it and there are reasons they exist,” he says. “By not availing yourself of those tools, you are depriving yourself and your clients of the best possible representation.”
Prior to the coronavirus, Pierson and her legal team were preparing to begin discovery in the case and were planning to seek detailed budgetary information about the prospective city.
St. George organizers, meanwhile, have drafted a transition district bill outlining how the prospective city will become a reality. Until the coronavirus halted the legislative session, that measure was expected to pass through the Republican-dominated Legislature. Given that the session is now on hold, it is unclear how lawmakers will handle nonemergency legislation such as the transition district bill.