Judge Dismisses Petition For Lafayette Charter Re-Vote
After a long day of testimony, 15th Judicial District Court Judge John Trahan dismissed a petition that would have forced a re-vote on the newly-approved Lafayette City-Parish charter. At the center of the argument was the map versus the text version of precinct boundaries. Earlier this year, some issues were uncovered with the language in the amended home rule charter that created two separate councils for the city and parish.
Inside courtroom 5C at the Lafayette Parish Courthouse was crowded as multiple parties were being represented in the trial.
Keith Kishbaugh represented by Lane Roy
Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin (not present) represented by a legal team from the office of Attorney General Jeff Landry.
Lafayette Consolidated Government represented by City Attorney Paul Escott and attorney Mike Hebert.
There was also a group of residents, referred to as "interveners", who were excluded in the original charter as passed by voters. Collectively, they agreed with the Lafayette City-Parish Council decision to changed precinct error by ordinance. In the end, the judge sided with them and will allow the amended home rule charter to take effect.
Demographer Mike Hefner testified for more than three hours on Wednesday morning and explained his process and experience with reapportionment. The 2020 charter will be his 4th to work on in the state of Louisiana, so the topic is familiar to him. The issue has to do with the discrepancy between the map that was displayed (and likely used in the decision) and the written legal description of the precincts in the amended home rule charter.
After a lunch recess, Lafayette Parish registrar of voters Charlene Meaux Menard testified that she noticed errors and first notified the council on December 18th. This was 10 days after the vote to approve the new charter by a vote of the people. Menard talked about the state's E.R.I.N. computer system that holds all of the information about the electorate in the state. She testified that errors first came up when changes to precinct 6 didn't seem quite right when the Secretary of State office called to confirm.
In a surprise early evening ruling, Judge John Trahan complimented all attorneys involved. It was his belief that the council approved the new districts by map. He took exception to the opinion that voters actually read the full proposed amendment to the charter. He joked that the council didn't even read it and he doesn't think voters read it either.
The group 'Fix The Charter' put out a statement shortly after the ruling.
The judge left the ruling open to the appellate process, but the Attorney General's team was not prepared to make the request to have it fast-tracked in the 3rd District Court of Appeals.