St. George incorporation challenge officially set for early May trial
BATON ROUGE - A district court judge ruled Monday that a lawsuit challenging the incorporation of St. George will go to trial beginning May 2.
The trial date was officially set after Judge Martin Coady denied a motion for summary judgment filed by plaintiffs, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and Councilmember Lamont Cole, during a Zoom hearing Monday afternoon.
Mary Olive Pierson, who represents Broome and Cole, argued the St. George petition is deficient and does not meet all legal requirements.
Pierson cited Section 4 of La. Revised Statute 33:1, which requires "a listing of the public services the municipal corporation proposes to render to the area and a plan for the provision of these services."
"There is no plan," Pierson told Coady more than once Monday.
Sheri Morris, who represents the incorporation organizers Chris Rials and Norman Browning, argued there is no deficiency in the petition because it had been green-lighted by both the Secretary of State and Governor.
That review happened after 54% of voters in the proposed area of St. George voted in favor of incorporation in the Oct. 12, 2019 election.
Morris, citing the Merriam-Webster definition of "plan" in her argument: "a method for achieving an end," said the petition served as that plan. The defendants also maintain that the 2018 petition for incorporation included a plan of proposed services.
When presenting his ruling, Coady said it is the court's duty to determine the validity of a petition and that the statute laying out incorporation does not give guidance about what constitutes a plan.
Coady told those logged into the video call he felt there were genuine issues that needed to be heard at a trial.
Two dates had been previously set aside for the trial, and the May 2 date was settled on Monday afternoon.
In a phone call with WBRZ after the hearing, Pierson, who declined an interview opportunity, reiterated her concerns about any plan or proposal of services in the petition.
"Does their petition have a plan?" Pierson said. "The answer's no."
Pierson acknowledged she would have preferred that the summary judgment motion be granted, but added, "we're prepared to live and fight for another day."
Andrew Murrell, the spokesperson for St. George, told WBRZ Monday any concerns about the validity of the petition should have been brought up when it was going through review by the Secretary of State, East Baton Rouge Registrar of Voters and the Governor.
"The only surprise today was that they're still allowed to bring a challenge that they didn't bring timely before," Murrell said.