Vercell Fiffie declared unopposed for Div. A judge: Atoundra Pierre Lawson removed from the ballot

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, August 26, 2020

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NEW ORLEANS — Vercell Fiffie will run unopposed for the 40th District Judicial Judge Division A seat in the Nov. 3 election following the disqualification of Atoundra Pierre Lawson.

Fiffie will fill the role of departing Judge Madeline Jasmine, who has held the Division A seat for 30 years and did not seek re-election this year.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal found that Pierre Lawson was disqualified for candidacy on the grounds that she had not been domiciled in St. John Parish for the required one year before qualifying for the election, nor did she certify she had filed necessary tax returns at the time of qualifying.

The Secretary of State removed Pierre Lawson from the ballot on Aug. 20.

On July 31, pro tempore Judge Kirk Vaughn of the 40th Judicial District Court in Edgard rendered a judgment in favor of Pierre Lawson. Vaughn ruled that petitioners Brandon Lumar and Vercell Fiffie did not meet the burden of proof in establishing that Pierre Lawson was unqualified.

In a judgment rendered by the Honorable Fredericka Homberg Vicker, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal reversed the decision of the trial court and directed the Louisiana Secretary of State to remove Pierre Lawson from the ballot.

Once the petitioners provide proof that the grounds for disqualification exist, the burden shifts to the candidate to refute it. After Lumar and Fiffie provided sufficient evidence that Pierre Lawson’s domicile was in Virginia, the burden of proof shifted to her to prove her domicile had changed to Edgard, Louisiana.

Voter registration, homestead exemptions, vehicle registration and a driver’s license address are common examples of documentary evidence to determine domicile, defined as an individual’s habitual residence.

Pierre Lawson listed a Virginia address where her husband and children still reside on 11 tax returns signed on July 17, 2020 in preparation for the upcoming election.

According to Vicker’s ruling, the most generous reading of the evidence is that she changed her domicile in October of 2019 when she changed her voter registration and driver’s license to reflect an Edgard, Louisiana residence, but that was less than the required one year before qualifying.

Tax returns were also grounds for Pierre Lawson’s disqualification at the appellate level. Lumar/Fiffie presented correspondence from the Louisiana Department of Revenue showing that tax returns for Lawson could not be found in the system as of July 29.

Pierre Lawson was unable to verify whether her tax returns were timely filed at the time she signed her Notice of Candidacy.

Pierre Lawson has been an attorney for 20 years. Her legal career began in the St. John Parish courthouse as a judicial law clerk. She then served as a public defender for St. John and St. Charles parishes and helped start the 40th Judicial Adult Drug Court Program. She joined the National Association of Drug Court Professionals and worked with judicial districts across 30 states to offer alternatives to traditional incarceration.

Vercell Fiffie will be elected to a six-year term in the 40th Judicial Court.

Fiffie is a longtime attorney in St. John the Baptist Parish with extensive trial court experience. During his tenure as assistant district attorney, Fiffie prosecuted misdemeanor and felony cases and fostered the policy for prosecuting fraudulent contractors after Hurricane Isaac. As a parish attorney, he represented St. John the Baptist Parish in civil litigation and served as the legal advisor to the parish president, council, and its departments.

“I have dedicated the past decade of my legal career to our justice system right here in St. John the Baptist Parish,” Fiffie said in his candidate announcement.

“My legal experience and work in this community make me uniquely qualified and ready to serve you on the bench. As your District Court judge, I will uphold the position with integrity, honesty and fairness while continuing to treat everyone in and out of the courtroom with dignity and respect.”