Writs denied for 2nd time in election case: Pierre Lawson responds to disqualification

Published 7:26 am Saturday, September 5, 2020

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EDGARD — Atoundra Pierre Lawson, former candidate for judge for the 40th Judicial District Court, made a second attempt to restore her name to the ballot by filing writs with the Louisiana Supreme Court last week.

After a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision ended the Division A election on Aug. 14, Pierre Lawson sought relief from the Louisiana Supreme Court, citing that the plaintiff’s appeal was filed after the deadline had expired to do so.

In an expanded brief resubmitted to the court on Thursday, Aug. 27, Pierre Lawson maintained that there was a lack of evidence submitted to the court by the plaintiff. The writ was denied without opinion by the Supreme Court both times, meaning the case was not heard.

“I’m confident that if the Louisiana Supreme Court saw this case, they would reverse the Fifth Circuit’s ruling because their decision weaponizes election laws without requiring evidence,” Pierre Lawson said.

Earlier in August, the district court, with Judge Kirk Vaughn presiding, dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint, stating, “the burden of proof simply has not been met by petitioners on the issues of residency; filing of tax returns and/or lack of qualification.”

The Fifth Circuit found that, without mailing taxes by certified mail, there was no way Pierre Lawson knew they were filed when she signed her Notice of Candidacy.

Pierre Lawson disagreed on the grounds that there was evidence her taxes had been delivered to the Louisiana Department of Revenue. She referred to this as an unprecedented ruling placing the burden of proof on the defendant.

“Normally, Louisiana courts have held that the candidate seeking to disqualify an opponent holds a heavy burden of proof,” Pierre Lawson said.

“In past rulings the Louisiana Supreme Court has held ‘there is nothing more fundamental to our society than the ability of our electorate to choose its leaders. The purpose of the election process is to provide the electorate with a wide choice of candidates.’”

The Fifth Circuit also found that Pierre Lawson has not lived in St. John the Baptist Parish for a sufficient period of time since her driver’s license and other documents reflected a Virginia address less than one year before she qualified for the election in July 2020.

Pierre Lawson said she moved back to Edgard in June 2019, more than one year preceding the election as required by the Louisiana Constitution.

While her husband and children reside in Virginia, Pierre Lawson moved back home to Edgard permanently in June 2019 to take care of her father after he endured a serious accident. She said the physical distance is a sacrifice her family made together because taking care of elders is a value they hold close to their hearts.

Pierre Lawson referred to the Fifth Circuit’s ruling as “sexist and offensive.”

“That has never been the law. This creates a precedent where filing for divorce and a mother having her children with her are needed to establish domicile. That’s ridiculous. That makes it hard for any professional woman to make a choice. It hurts families by saying you need to divorce to qualify as a candidate,” she said.

“While I respect the court, this ruling is a deviation from any normal standard. The saddest part of it is that now there is no democracy for the residents of St. John the Baptist living in the district. Nevertheless, I wish the 40th Judicial District Court all the best because I want what is best for our parish.”

Even though Pierre Lawson’s campaign has formally ended, she continues to live in Edgard and is resuming her law practice and public service.

“I would like to thank all the people who supported me. Your trust was not misplaced and I will continue to contribute to St. John the Baptist Parish in every way possible,” she said.