Although Mr. Fussell misapplies the Louisiana Revised Statutes he listed in his most recent letter to the editor, I believe this is a great opportunity for residents of Concordia Parish to better understand the Louisiana Laws dealing with our election process.
There is a distinction between qualifying for an office and the actual election. Qualifying for an elected office occurs several months prior to the election. If a registered voter believes that a candidate for an elective office does not meet the listed qualifications for that office, he or she can file an action objecting to the candidacy. Further, a registered voter can present evidence that a candidate has illegally qualified for elective office to Office of the District Attorney. After an investigation establishing illegal qualification, the District Attorney is mandated to file an action objecting to the candidacy. However, the Louisiana statues referenced in my previous letter state that an action objecting to a candidacy shall be commenced in a court of competent jurisdiction within seven days after the close of qualifications for the candidates in the primary election.
Moreover, Mr. Fussell is correct that La. R.S. 13:2582 contains an age restriction, in that a person over 70 years of age does not have the qualifications to run for the office of justice of the peace. Yet, just like all other qualifications or lack of qualifications, any action to object to the candidacy of a person must be commenced within seven days after the close of qualifications. In this matter, the last day to file an action to object of Mr. Banks’ alleged lack of qualifications, including age, was July 29, 2016, at 4:30 p.m.
These statutes reinforce a simple principle that we are all citizens, and as citizens we have duties and responsibilities. If a candidate for elective office lacks the qualifications for that particular office, who better than their fellow citizens to file an action to object to that candidacy or present such evidence of the lack of qualifications to the local district attorney who would then file such an action. Yet, in no event can such an action be filed more than seven days after the close of qualification.
I encourage all citizens to be vigilant. It should be noted that no evidence was presented to the Office of District Attorney regarding Mr. Banks’ lack of qualifications prior to July 29, 2016, at 4:30 p.m. Mr. Fussell did not report this lack of qualifications until November of 2016. These Louisiana Statutes clearly provide that an objection to a candidate’s qualifications must be filed in the time limits outline above, the logic is to timely remove unqualified candidates from the ballot prior to the election. Allowing challenges or objections to a candidate’s qualifications after the election would possibly invalidate the election and burden the taxpayer with the expense of another election.
Now turning to the statues cited in Mr. Fussell’s most recent letter to the editor, he is referencing the statute that deals with contesting the election. Obviously, an action to contest an election based on fraud, error or irregularities must be filed after an election. This is a completely different concept than outlined above. Yet, Mr. Fussell attempts to mesh the two legal actions.
Louisiana R.S. 18:1401 list in paragraphs A thru E, who are the proper parties authorized to institute actions to object to candidacy, contest elections and contest recall petitions. Proper parties are a person or persons who may file a file action.
Mr. Fussell cites La. R.S. 18:1401 paragraph C, which states, “A person in interest may bring an action contesting any election in which any proposition is submitted to the voters if he alleges that except for irregularities or fraud in the contest of an election the result would have been different.” This statute does not apply. Mr. Fussell may be a person in interest, but La. R.S. 18:1401 paragraph C articulates contesting an election in which a proposal is submitted to the voters, such as a tax renewal. An interested person can contest the election based on error, irregularities or fraud. An example would be illegal cast votes.
The election that Mr. Fussell complains about was not about a proposal to the voters but rather an election of candidates to elective office. Hereafter, Mr. Fussell’s argument changes from challenging Mr. Banks’ qualifications to bringing an action contesting an election. These actions are two completely different concepts.
Mr. Fussell would have been more accurate but still incorrect if he would have cited Louisiana R.S. 18:1401 paragraph B, that states, “a candidate who alleges that, except for substantial irregularities or error, or except for fraud or other unlawful activities in the conduct of the election, he would have qualified for a general election or would have been elected may bring an action contesting the election.” Further, Mr. Fussell cites Louisiana R.S. 18:1405, which contains the peremptive period of the ninth day (at 4:30 p.m.) after the election to file an action contesting an election.
As a candidate for justice of the peace, District 1, Mr. Fussell would be a proper party to file an action contesting the election per Louisiana R.S. 18:1401 (B), and Mr. Fussell would have had until December 19, 2016, at 4:30 p.m. to file such an action (ninth day after the general election). As noted above, the District Attorney can file an action objecting to the candidacy of a person qualified as a candidate but ONLY a candidate(s) for that office can bring an action to contest the election. Mr. Fussell would have had the burden of proving but for the fraud, error or irregularities, he would have been elected. The District Attorney is not a listed proper party and cannot file an action to contest the election.
Mr. Fussell spoke and met with First Assistant District Attorney, Ann Siddall on several occasions. Ms. Siddall explained the law, the duties of the District Attorney’s and the peremptive period (time delays) of 7 days on actions objecting to a candidate’s qualification. The Office of District Attorney only role is in filing timely actions to object to a candidate’s lack of qualifications. My office cannot file actions contesting elections nor am I going to give legal advice to a candidate in order to file his or her own action to contest an election. By giving legal advice in a contested election, I would be choosing one candidate over the other and undermining the will of the voters.
Mr. Fussell opined, “Now gee, if MY district attorney’s office could have given this information, I think I would have had five more days to act.” I am not Ms. Fussell’s personal attorney nor am I going to give legal advice outside of my statutory duties. Mr. Fussell complained of Concordia Parish politics in his first letter. Ironically, giving Mr. Fussell legal advice or acting as his attorney (“MY district attorney’s office”) would be advocating politics at its worse. In his letters Mr. Fussell has questioned my integrity, my legal knowledge and my work ethic. My desire is to clarify any question about those three topics and shed some light on the election process. I hope all citizens report any qualification deficiencies to my office timely, so we can have an election with properly qualified candidates.
I assumed this matter was concluded when Ms. Siddall informed Mr. Fussell that the Office of District Attorney could not file an action contesting Mr. Banks’ qualifications because of the time limitations outlined above.
Bradley R. Burget