Three council candidates’ residency challengedJul 30th, 2010 | By Frank McCormack | Category: top story
A trio of lawsuits came before the 25th Judicial District Court of Plaquemines Parish last week that challenged the qualifications of three candidates running for parish council.
Two of the lawsuits took aim at Bill Hardin and Lyle Stockstill, both of whom are candidates for the District 7 council seat currently occupied by Jay Friedman, who is term limited. Lloyd Balliviero and Edward Derouen Jr. filed the suits, arguing that neither Hardin nor Stockstill reside in the district.
The third lawsuit, which drew by far the most spectators to the parish’s temporary court building on F. Edward Hebert Boulevard in Belle Chasse, challenged District 6 councilman Burghart Turner’s qualifications for seeking reelection. Port Sulphur resident Glenn Ballay filed the lawsuit, which argued that Turner does not live at the 161 East Bellevue Lane address listed as his official residence.
When the gavel dropped July 21, both Hardin and Turner’s candidacy was upheld. Stockstill, though, was disqualified because of a separate issue.
Turner candidacy upheld
Though the Turner hearing was the second of the three lawsuits, it undeniably carried the most fanfare. Outside the temporary courthouse before the hearings, more than a dozen Turner supporters gathered before a single TV news camera to hold signs aloft and chant lines like “Enough is enough.”
Once inside, those same supporters sat quietly as they watched the case unfold.
Judge Kevin Conner recused himself from the case because of his past service as attorney for the parish council. Retired Judge Robert Klees heard the case.
After some opening remarks from each side’s attorney, Gibby Andry, Ballay’s attorney, called Ballay to testify.
Andry led Ballay through several photos of Turner’s trailer on East Bellevue Lane which depicted an unkempt yard, a power pole with cut lines and a nonfunctional power meter, and unconnected sewer pipes.
“Does anyone live in this trailer,” Andry asked Ballay.
“I pass it several times a week and I never see anyone there,” Ballay replied.
Ballay, who owns property on nearby August Street, said he often passes Turner’s trailer on the way to maintain his property.
“Have you ever seen a car there?” Andry asked.
“No,” Ballay said.
“Have you ever seen anyone living there, much less Mr. Turner?” Andry asked.
“No,” Ballay answered.
Based on that testimony and the photos of Turner’s trailer, Andry called into question the validity of Turner’s candidacy for the council race given that he does not live at the address listed on his qualifying documents.
On cross examination, though, Turner’s attorney, Blake Jones, took direct aim at Ballay’s credibility on the matter. Jones first questioned how often Ballay passes Turner’s property. Though Ballay originally said he drives past Turner’s property several times a week, under Jones’ cross examination Ballay’s estimates ranged from only a dozen times a year to more than 50.
“You don’t know any particular number [of times you pass the property],” Jones asked.
“No,” Ballay said.
Jones then focused on the affidavit Ballay signed when he filed the lawsuit. The suit suggests that Turner may live in Boothville. When questioned on that point, Ballay admitted the information came from friends.
“You don’t have any independent knowledge of him living in Boothville, do you?” he asked.
“No, that’s just hearsay,” Ballay answered.
Jones then questioned whether Ballay had even filed the lawsuit that bore his name. When asked to identify his signature on the suit’s affidavit, Ballay said he wasn’t sure it was his.
“You don’t know if you signed this or not?” Jones asked.
“I guess you could say that,” Ballay answered.
Based on that testimony, Klees decided to exclude the affidavit from the lawsuit. Andry offered no objection.
Ballay’s witness stand breakdown, though, did not erase the fact that Turner’s trailer at 161 East Bellevue Lane remains, and has always been, uninhabited. Turner did not deny the fact when he took the stand.
“Do you live there?” Andry asked Turner.
“I actually reside with my sister while I take care of my mother,” Turner said. Turner’s sister lives on West Bellevue Lane, across Highway 23.
Turner admitted that he has not lived in the trailer since it was purchased in April 2009. In fact, he has not lived on the property since Hurricane Katrina. Turner received Road Home funds to rebuild on his property in early 2009. Under the terms of the Road Home agreement, Turner has three years to rebuild there.
“Why is it that you presently reside with your sister, a block down the street on the other side of Highway 23?” Jones later asked Turner.
Turner said he and his sister care for his mother, who is in a permanent vegetative state.
“I’m the main person that gives her a full bath. Tracheotomy care. Catheter care. These are things I administer,” Turner said.
Acknowledging Turner’s noble commitment to his mother, Andry said he nonetheless fails to meet the requirements for council candidacy, due to the fact he does not live at the address listed as his residence.
“The requisite for qualification is domicile for over a year,” Andry said. “The tests for determining domicile were residence and intent to remain. He testified he does not reside there and hasn’t resided there for over the past year. He simply doesn’t meet the requirements.”
Turner, though, contended that the vacancy of his trailer actually demonstrates his intent to return to the property.
“I’ve not allowed anyone else to move there, because it’s my home, my intended home,” he said.
In the end, Klees ruled in favor of Turner because no evidence had been offered to prove he lives outside of District 6.
“The person who files a lawsuit has to prove his side of the story or his petition will fail,” Klees said. “The court finds the plaintiff has failed to prove that the defendant in this matter is not a qualified elector and a bonified resident of and legally domiciled [in District 6]. I’m saying that it’s possible he may have another residence and he may be domiciled some place else, but if that domicile is within the ward or precinct and he’s been there for more than one year, then he’s certainly a qualified elector [from that district].”
At that, the crowd erupted in applause. After the ruling, Turner said he appreciated the public support and reiterated his District 6 residency.
Speaking of the case against him, Turner said, “It’s a stretch and it’s political.”
Late last week, Ballay said he had not decided whether to appeal the ruling to a higher court.
Hardin in, Stockstill out
Conner presided over the two other council candidate cases July 21. In the first case, Balliviero and Derouen argued that Stockstill does not reside in Empire, as his qualification documents indicate.
Stockstill’s candidacy forms indicate that he lives in an apartment at Deep Delta Rentals in Empire, but Balliviero and Derouen claimed he actually lives in New Orleans. According to his own testimony and the testimony of Chris Leopold, manager and part owner of the property, Stockstill lives at Deep Delta Rentals in exchange for maintaining the property.
During his testimony, though, Stockstill admitted he has been a registered voter only a few months. Conner said, according to his interpretation of the charter, a candidate for council must be a registered voter for at least a year prior to qualifying. Because of that, Conner ruled Stockstill ineligible to run for the District 7 seat.
In the second case, Balliviero and Derouen claimed that Hardin resides in Belle Chasse, where he owns property. Hardin admitted to owning the Belle Chasse property but produced a wealth of proof that he resides in Empire.
“It is true I own a home in Belle Chasse. I don’t think I’ve laid my head there more than five times in the past two years,” Hardin said.
Conner agreed and dismissed the case. “To me it’s clear cut. He’s down the road more than he’s up here,” he said.