Lawsuits illicit strong reaction

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 1, 2008


Editor and Publisher

EDGARD – Facing high-powered lawyers, as well as lawsuits from a host of national industry is doing nothing to deter the intent of the Garyville Incorporation Committee from its intended goal. Instead, it is garnering a strong countercharge.

Ever since the committee had their petition approved by Governor Bobby Jindal, which will ask voters in the Garyville area whether they want to incorporate their town or not, the criticism of their plan has been steadily increasing.

The vote is currently set for July 19.

Then things moved to a whole new level in the past few days as a total of four lawsuits, three from top industry in the area, were filed against the Incorporation Committee efforts, trying to halt or cancel the election. More industry suits are expected this week.

   But not only is that not slowing down the committee efforts, it has intensified the counter charges, as Committee Chairperson Geri Baloney filed a 17-page answer to the lawsuits on Monday.

Baloney is asking for the lawsuits against her group to be dismissed, based on a number of challenges, even drawing Jindal into the fray since she says he was not named in the suits against her group.

Judge Sterling Snowdy has been assigned the case, and on Monday, began a conference call with all key parties by denying Baloney’s motion for recusal.

Baloney had requested Snowdy recuse himself on the grounds that he owned property in Reserve, and the fact that Baloney practices law in Snowdy’s court. However the motion was denied.

On Monday, Nalco and Cargill added to the suit filed last week from Marathon Petroleum, with all suits asking a judge to do whatever is necessary so they are not included in the boundaries of the newly-proposed Town of Garyville.

Additionally, attorney Danny Becnel Jr. filed a suit on Friday asking the election to also be halted on the grounds that with industry out of the town, the boundaries are not drawn in a contiguous manner.

Baloney came to court on Monday with her own set of charges against the others, asking for dismissal of the suits for a variety of reasons.

She asked Snowdy to throw out the challenges to the election based on the fact that Marathon has put more than one kind of judicial request together, which is against the law; she asked the suits to be thrown out since she claims Marathon is premature with their lawsuit, since there is a means to challenge an election after the vote is completed; she asked Marathon’s suit to be tossed since Jindal wasn’t named in their suit, and he is a key party in the matter; she asked for the suit to be thrown out since Marathon is trying to halt the constitutional rights of Baloney and Scott Himel, committee vice-president, from continuing to work for passage of the vote; and she asked for the suits to be thrown out since she claims Marathon simply has no right to stop the election by not proving injury so far.

“We have said since day one that this is not about industry, it is about giving people in Garyville the right to finally get a piece of the pie that is the large amount of tax dollars coming to the parish,” Baloney said. “All these lawsuits to stop us should be a wake up call to the people of Garyville. It’s sad to see the way the industry, and the parish, is trying to hold the people here back.”

Baloney said she still believes the election on July 19 will go forth, since she hasn’t seen what she considers any valid reason to stop it.

“It doesn’t matter how many lawsuits they file, I have not seen one provision anywhere that says they have a right to stop this election,” she added.

Baloney was especially offended with Marathon’s request in their suit to halt the committee members from continuing to campaign for the election.

“I have a major disagreement with anyone trying to stop my free speech,” she remarked.

As for all the lawsuits being dropped on the small group that is the Garyville Incorporation Committee, Baloney didn’t seem shocked.

“None of this surprises me,” she said. “History has shown that in all incorporation efforts, this is what happens. They don’t want to share the gold, and this is what is expected when a small town tries to get their fair share.”

Baloney also was critical of St. John Assessor Whitney Joseph who was quoted as saying the Garyville area “doesn’t pay our fair share of taxes, and that we get more than we deserve.

“I resent that statement by Mr. Joseph,” she answered. “You can tell that we are not respected out here…black, white or other….the people here are getting taxation without representation and I hope all this stuff wakes up the people to see what is going on.”

Baloney said she is continuing to handle all the legal work for the committee with no pay, since she believes the incorporation effort is the right thing for the people there.

“No one is paying me,” she said, referring to the tremendous amount of legal work now being put in to defend all the lawsuits. “I believe this is the best thing for our area, and I believe in this effort. It’s just the right thing to do since this incorporation is a chance to lift up a large group of people.”

Motions will be heard in Snowdy’s court on Baloney’s counter-charges asking for dismissal of the suits and Snowdy said he will still accept any new motions through today.