Crum beats lawsuit

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 13, 2002


GRETNA – John Crum said he was delighted with his win Monday at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on the question of his legitimate residency and qualification to run for re-election as District Attorney for the 40th Judicial District.

The matter took 15 minutes to decide. No appeal is planned.

This matter began when Cora Johnson, a secretary in Geri Broussard-Baloney’s law office, said she had received several anonymous phone calls in the days after candidate qualifying for the district attorney’s race in St. John the Baptist Parish ended on Aug. 23. Baloney is Crum’s opponent in the race.

She said the calls sparked her interest and, with Chester McDowell, filed suit on Aug. 30, in an attempt to disqualify Crum from the campaign. However, following a five-hour hearing on Sept. 3, First Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Douglas Gonzales ruled in Crum’s favor, and Johnson elected to pursue an appeal. During the appeal, the plaintiff’s attorney, Elizabeth Welsh Deffey, argued her evidence, including low water usage and an “abandoned” look to the property, showed Crum’s LaPlace residence was not used. The court, though, decided otherwise.

The water-bill issue, Crum’s attorney Barry Landry said, was “a total wash.” He added they misread the water bill, saying it’s designed to read “20,” meaning “2,000.”

This was confirmed by Dora Nevers of the parish Utilities Department billing office, who said, “You have to add two zeroes.”

“Everything went fine,” Crum said of the appeals hearing, and added, “Now, I’m looking forward to getting down to the more pertinent issues like who is most qualified.”

Crum received the unanimous nod from a seven-judge panel in the appellate court, minus Judge Thomas Daley, who served as a witness for the district attorney. Judge Edward A. Dufresne Jr. of Luling filed the written opinion of the panel Tuesday.

Crum, who served as an assistant district attorney under Harry Morel when the 29th Judicial District Included both St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes, and since 1985 as district attorney of the 40th Judicial District, explained his residency arrangement as protection for his family.

He recalled a capital murder case during the prosecution of which his wife was in a store when she was harrassed by someone in support of the defendant.

“I didn’t want my kids to deal with my job affecting them,” Crum said, so he relocated his wife and children to New Orleans and the address has an unlisted telephone number.

Meanwhile, he maintains his local residence at 1916 Madewood Drive in LaPlace, eating, showering, keeping his pets there and sometimes sleeping there.

“Why have satellite television there, if I’m not there?” he said, to make his point about maintaining a residency in LaPlace.

“If I had to worry about my family, it would affect my job,” Crum continued. Meanwhile, since he has maintained a residence here since 1972, he said he has no intention of leaving.

He did say last week he had no fears about the district court decision in support of his legal residency to be overturned. “I don’t know of anythng that could possibly change the judge’s ruling,” Crum said.

Several of Crum’s neighbors were unanimous in their opinion of the district attorney’s residency.

Next-door neighbor Neal Prudhomme of 1912 Madewood, said, “Mr. Crum is here every day, and he spends a lot of nights here, even Saturdays and Sundays. He’s been living next door to me for 29 years.”

Across the street, Joe Remedies of 1917 Madewood said of Crum, “He’s home more than I am. In the morning, when I wake up, he’s there, and most of the time when I go to sleep, he’s still there.”

Robert Roussel, of 1908 Madewood, has likewise been in his home for 30 years, added of Crum, “He’s in and out all the time.

“The judge should have charged the Baloneys for wasting their time.”

Around the River Parishes, other office-holders had varying opinions in the matter. St. Charles Councilman-at-Large Clayton Faucheux said he had heard of such cases in the past, but said he had never paid much attention, since it could not apply to him.

St. Charles Councilman Lance Marino, on the other hand, felt a residency is important. “You’re at least aware of the area if you live in the area,” he said.

Clerk of Court Charles Oubre Jr. referred to the St. Charles Parish Council which detailed “all council members shall reside in and be qualified voters of the parish and shall reside in and be qualified voters of their respective districts.”

Crum’s attorney, Barry Landry, cited state law which requires a person who has more than one residence, including one on which he claims a homestead exemption, to register to vote in the place where he claims the exemption.

Landry pointed out several errors in the Baloney case, including allegations of a residence in Metairie, which in fact was in error. Carl Baloney likewise claimed the Madewood Drive address looked abandoned. In fact, Baloney had never been inside, nor did he talk to any neighbors.

Landry also submitted the statement of homestead exemption for the Madewood residence and also the district attorney’s voter registratation, carrying that same address.

“If this is not a frivolous appeal it is as close to one and one can get,” Landry stated in his filed response to the appeal.

St. John Parish Councilman Steve Lee added he didn’t see Crum’s qualifications as a problem. “He’s done an outstanding job, and I just see this as a political strategy.”

St. James Parish Councilman Jimmy Brazan of Vacherie, himself a second-generation office-holder since his late father, Richard Brazan, was a police juror, said of Crum’s explanation, “I can understand that, totally.”

Similarly, St. James Councilman Tim Roussel added of the brouhaha, “I’m glad we don’t have to put up that that part of politics, and how do you get good people to run then?”