Snowdy recuses himself in suits against Garyville

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Editor and Publisher

EDGARD – While noting that he “strongly disputes the allegations” asking for his recusal from the lawsuits surrounding the Garyville incorporation effort, 40th Judicial District Judge Sterling Snowdy agreed on Monday to step aside from the critical case facing the court, as the July 19 election rapidly approaches.

Garyville Incorporation Committee Chairperson Geri Baloney, who just happens to be the attorney defending the group in court, asked last week for Snowdy to recuse himself in the case that involves five local industry groups, and one community group, all asking to be separated from the incorporation effort.

Snowdy denied the motion.

However on Monday, with the consolidation of the five industry cases and the class action request from a group in Reserve, Baloney again asked for Snowdy to recuse himself a second time.

This time Baloney added a new allegation that Snowdy and his staff had previously discussed the Garyville incorporation situation, as well as the industry controversy, with local attorney Tomy Acosta.

Baloney claimed that biased the case for Snowdy and once again, she asked for him to step aside in the case.

This time, with a courtroom full of lawyers representing five different industrial companies, Snowdy complied with the motion even as he “strongly disputed” the allegation.

In the end, Snowdy said in a written explanation, he wanted no sign of impropriety in the important case, and therefore decided to step down.

Both of the other two District 40 judges, Madeline Jasmine and Mary Hotard Becnel, had already cited potential conflicts that would not allow them to serve on the case.

That has again delayed a resolution in the matter while the Louisiana Supreme Court must now select a new judge for the case.

Snowdy indicated that he expected a judge to be named “perhaps as early as within 24 hours” due to the urgency in settling the lawsuits.

Local industry Marathon Petroleum Company, Cargill, Nalco and Stockhausen-Gramercy Alumina all filed suits within the past week against the Garyville Incorporation Committee, the St. John Parish registrar of voters, the Louisiana secretary of state, St. John Parish, and St. John Parish President Bill Hubbard. The request from all industry was essentially the same, as they claimed to have proper state exemptions that should exclude them from any possible municipality that tries to incorporate.

When the Garyville Incorporation Committee originally drew the boundaries for their proposed town, which also includes a portion of Reserve, they not only drew all those industries into their town, but submitted a proposed budget that counted on revenue from those industries for their first year of operating capital.

The inclusion of some of Reserve is what brought a suit from Danny Becnel Jr., seeking class action status on behalf of businesses and residents who don’t believe they should be included in the new Town of Garyville either.

With the election set in less than two weeks, industry continues to take the position that clarification on the matter is vital for a fair vote from the public.

“That has been our position all along,” Marathon attorney Daniel Wellons told L’Observateur. “We were very specific in our lawsuit, making it clear we just want Marathon excluded from the town.”

Wellons added that the importance for a fair vote is what should concern any judge who handles the case.

“Right now all this court action is just delaying the substance of this issue,” he said. “In fairness to the voters, this decision on the industry involvement needs to be quick, since the people need to know what they are voting on.”

Baloney told L’Observateur last week that “even I would like to know for sure whether industry is included or not.”

However in a previous interview, she continued to maintain that she believes the Town of Garyville will absolutely get some revenue from the industry.

“One way or another, I do believe that some part of the industry taxes will go to Garyville if the vote passes,” she said.

In Monday’s hearing, Baloney and the others on hand were expecting to hear a host of exclusions filed by Baloney, all seeking to have the industry lawsuits thrown out. However none of that was heard by Snowdy after he stepped down as judge in the case, making any decisions delayed until the new judge is named, and a new court date is set.

Baloney’s only reaction to Snowdy agreeing to step down was “I’m ecstatic.”

The new motion for recusal of Snowdy surrounded what Baloney said were extensive conversations between Acosta and Snowdy, as well as Snowdy’s staff.

Baloney said the conversations occurred “prior to the commencement of litigation in the matter,” but still claimed the conversations involved “the judge, the judge’s law clerk, secretary and bailiff.”

Her motion continued, saying that “during those visits, Acosta engaged in discussions and debates regarding the incorporation of the Town of Garyville, the plaintiff, Marathon’s claim to industrial designation and whether or not, Marathon should be included within the boundaries of the proposed municipality.”

Acosta serves on the board for the incorporation committee, however declined on Monday to comment further.

In the end, the motion claimed that “it became clear to Attorney Acosta that Judge Snowdy, his secretary, law clerk and bailiff opposed the incorporation effort.”

Snowdy responded by saying that the court did not engage in conversations during the time of the referenced suits and was still impartial in the entire matter.

But to leave no question about that impartiality, Snowdy was removing himself from the case to “avoid the appearance of impropriety.”