Residents seek to halt election

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 19, 2002


RESERVE – St. John the Baptist Parish School Board member Russ Wise said plaintiffs filing a lawsuit against the School Board to stop a proposed redistricting plan should “do their homework.”

The suit, filed in federal District Court, named members of the School Board and Parish Council as defendants in the case. Two current school board members, Wise and Lowell Bacas, were erroneously missing from the suit, while two former members, Richard L. Delong and James R. Madere, were listed as defendants.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are seeking an injunction on elections and on the qualifying dates, charging the new redistricting plan, which has not yet been approved by the Justice Department, is discriminatory. Legal papers filed on behalf of the plaintiffs said redistricting plans “dilute their voting strength and deny them civil rights granted under the Constitution and the laws of this country.”

Some of the plaintiffs in the case are the same plaintiffs that filed suit against the old redistricting plan in 1994.

“If there is no qualification, the board would stay in place until the issue is resolved,” said Lloyd LeBlanc Jr, acting attorney for the board. “My advice to them was to go ahead and qualify unless there is an injunction issued.”

The qualifying dates for this year’s school board election are Wednesday-Friday.

Board members were already anticipating some delay in the qualifying dates because of delays in the acceptance of the proposed redistricting plan.

“I am going to contact the Secretary of State Monday to find out how we quality,” School Board President Gerald Keller said. “If the new plan is not accepted before qualifying and the courts do not order us to stop, I would think we would have to qualify under the old plan.”

The St. John redistricting plan adopted 7 years ago was never approved by the Justice Department. Now, before the new redistricting plan can be considered, the old plan has to be reviewed and accepted.

Board members at Thursday’s meeting said there has been no further word from the Justice Department on whether the new plan will be accepted.

“I have absolute confidence that the plan is valid from top to bottom,” Wise said. “It was designed by people with a great deal of experience. These people have done dozens, if not hundreds, of these plans and have never as far as I know been overturned by the courts.”

Walton Caire, attorney for the plaintiffs, refused to comment on the case.

“The lawsuit has already been filed,” he said. “Read it for yourself.”