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Bill suggests changes to legislative continuance, some question constitutional validity

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BATON ROUGE - State Representative Edmond Jordan has filed a bill to change the power of a lawyer-legislator when it comes to submitting court continuances.

One Baton Rouge attorney tells 2 On Your Side that House Bill 544 is not constitutional. Last year, a similar bill was filed (HB644) but stalled in the senate and didn't go anywhere.

The bill filing follows a civil suit where Jordan represented East Baton Rouge Metro Councilman Cleve Dunn. Eugene Michelli filed suit against Dunn in 2021 after he did some work on his home, which is outside of his district. Dunn installed a pool cabana, fence, and a new driveway. The city found several issues with the work that's not permitted. Last month, Michelli won the case after Dunn and Jordan missed two court appearances.

"We want to move on, we just want to move on," Michelli said.

While in contempt after missing the first March court date, Jordan filed a continuance for the next hearing on March 23. It was denied and he sought legislative continuance by the State Supreme Court, which was also denied. On that court date, neither Dunn nor Jordan showed up and the case was handed to Michelli.

Soon after, Jordan filed HB544, which essentially gives a lawyer/legislator an excuse to get out of court with no opposition.

Baton Rouge attorney Jennifer Prescott says as it's written now the bill is unconstitutional, giving the lawyer-legislator a lot of power that could delay the court process.

"Cases could just completely flounder both on the criminal and civil side by continuances that many not be necessary," Prescott said.

In Michelli's case, a civil matter was delayed and could have been delayed further.

"Mr. Jordan was trying to delay any penalties or damages or any judgements in this case for as long as possible and the actions that were taken by Judge Higginbotham and his order denying the ex parte continuance have been reflected in the bill that has been filed this session," she said.

Prescott says the bill that's being proposed right now is directly correlated with what happened in the Michelli vs. Dunn case, trying to prevent it from happening again in the future.

One of the bill's provisions says if a judge denies one such motion, they must recuse themselves from the case if it's requested by the legislator. Another says the lawyer/legislator must file the continuance five days prior to a hearing or proceeding.

"If this bill were to pass there would be a four to five month period through the year in order for a case to proceed," Prescott said. "That also doesn't consider the other provisions that have been added where a lawyer-legislator can continue proceedings for meeting with constituents or going to other activities where they are eligible to receive a per diem."

While Prescott believes it's important to have practicing lawyers in the legislator to provide real-world experience, she doesn't think that continuance should be extended to times of the year that don't interfere with the legislative session.

Prescott fears that according to the bill, a lawyer-legislator could schedule meetings on or around the same day as a court hearing and get that hearing postponed.

"It's just a matter of 'I am in the legislature, the legislature is in session, or I have a meeting or I have an activity and I need this proceeding to be continued,'" Prescott said.

Jordan did not return a request for comment at the time this story was published.

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