Appeals court overturns Gibson ineligibility ruling

Louisiana’s 1st Circuit Court of Appeal has overturned a ruling in 16th Judicial District Court regarding a local elected official’s eligibility to hold public office.

The ruling was rendered May 11.

Tony J. Gibson was elected to the Baldwin Board of Aldermen in November 2010.

The DA’s office later learned that Gibson was a convicted felon from a 1997 conviction on charges of carnal knowledge of a juvenile.

Article 1 Section 10 of the Louisiana constitution prohibits anyone from running for or holding office if convicted of a felony unless the governor has granted a pardon, or if more than 15 years have passed since completion of the original sentence. Sixteenth Judicial District Attorney Phil Haney said neither of those conditions apply in Gibson’s case.

State law provides for a challenge to a candidate’s qualification for an election within seven days, but the conviction did not become known until after that time had elapsed.

Haney later recused his office since it was also prosecuting Gibson on a misdemeanor drug charge, and Camille “Cam” A. Morvant II, Lafourche Parish District Attorney, took over.

In February, Judge Jim McClelland of the 16th JDC ruled that Gibson was not qualified to hold the office.

The appeals court ruled that, “No action was filed pursuant to the Louisiana Election Code to contest Mr. Gibson’s qualification to hold public office before the election or within the delays set forth therein for contesting an elected official’s qualifications before being elected, even though the evidence showed that the District Attorney’s office knew about Mr. Gibson’s impediment and notified Mr. Gibson that he was not eligible before the election was held.”

The court noted that even though the state did contest Gibson’s qualifications before he took the oath of office “it did not seek injunctive relief to prevent Mr. Gibson from taking his seat. Once duly elected Mr. Gibson could only be removed from office by one of the well-established procedures for removing elected officials from office. Because none of them were instituted in this case, we hold that the trial court lacked authority to remove Mr. Gibson from his seat and declare the seat vacant.”

The case was heard by Judges James E. Kuhn, John T. Pettigrew, Page McClendon, Jewel E. Welch and Toni M. Higginbotham.

McClendon and Kuhn were in dissent of the verdict.

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