Courts: Jasmine can’t run, Sanders can

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 23, 2010



BATON ROUGE – A state appeals court on Thursday morning upheld a lower court ruling that declared 40th Judicial District Judge Madeline Jasmine ineligible to seek a position on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeal.

A panel of judges on the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Baton Rouge voted 8-2 in favor of a ruling rendered by a St. James Parish judge late last Friday. The judges’ ruling declared “a candidate for the office of judge of the 5th Circuit, Second District must be domiciled in the second district.”

St. James Parish Judge Jane Triche-Milazzo of the 23rd Judicial District disqualified Jasmine as a candidate in the Oct. 2 election for the 5th Circuit seat’s 10-year term after Convent residents Georgette N. Matassa and Phyllis Z. Rodrigue filed a lawsuit claiming Jasmine’s qualifying papers indicated her main residence is listed as an Edgard address, which isn’t located in the 2nd District.

The panel of judges made their ruling after two days of testimony in which both sides argued the necessity of a candidate for the 2nd District seat to reside in the 2nd District of the 5th Circuit.

Attorneys from both sides expressed their opinions on the state Constitution, which requires each circuit be divided into at least three districts and that at least one judge be elected from each district.

Jasmine’s attorney, Ernest Jones, maintained that any candidate for an appeals court position should be free to seek candidacy so long as that candidate resides within the circuit. He said it should be up to the voters to decide whether a candidate is qualified to sit on the court.

The appeal was originally scheduled to go before the 5th Circuit court, which represents Jefferson, St. Charles, St. John and St. James, but the 5th Circuit judges recused themselves from the case Monday.

The 2nd District of the 5th Circuit Court includes all of St. James Parish, as well as the east bank of St. John. Edgard is located on the west bank of St. John. Legal requirement rules indicate that candidates must live within the appeals court district for a year prior to qualifying for the election.

The incumbent for the seat is Jude Gravois of Lutcher. Gravois won a special election last year to take over the unexpired term of Tom Daley. Daley resigned from the seat after he was elected St. John Parish District Attorney in 2008. Jasmine, incidentally, served as the interim judge while the election was taking place.

Gravois’ other opponent in the October race is LaPlace attorney Daniel Becnel Jr. Gravois defeated Becnel’s wife, St. John Parish Judge Mary Hotard Becnel, in the special election last April by a 2 percent margin.

Becnel, meanwhile, represents two St. John Parish residents in a federal lawsuit to redraw the 5th Circuit’s district lines. The plaintiffs in that case, Pat Sellars and Francis Guidry Jr., are arguing that the district lines, which have not been altered since 1980, are outdated. The suit also claims that the 5th Circuit’s makeup — six judges elected in Jefferson Parish, one judge elected in the St. Charles/west St. John parishes district and one judge in the St. James/east St. John parishes district — minimizes the power of St. John Parish voters.

Becnel’s lawsuit is asking for the court of appeals election to be postponed until the state can reapportion the districts. The case is scheduled to go before a New Orleans court in early August.