The organizers of the St. George incorporation were hit yesterday with a letter from Mary Olive Pierson, the legal hired gun who turns up every time Baton Rouge mayor-president Sharon Weston Broome wants to enforce the status quo, and this particular missive was drearily predictable…
Though a legal battle over the incorporation has been expected since long before the Oct. 12 election approving the creation of St. George, Wednesday’s litigation hold notice is the first indication that a suit is imminent.
The notice was sent by attorney Mary Olive Pierson to St. George organizers Norman Browning, Drew Murrell and Chris Rials, and their attorney, Sheri Morris.
“Although suit has not yet been filed, you should reasonably anticipate such litigation within the near future,” the letter reads. “This Litigation Hold Notice hereby formally puts you and your agents, employees and supporters on notice of your obligation to preserve and retain documents, records, and electronically stored information.”
The letter specifies the documents and information include emails, internal memoranda, external memoranda, letters, notes, electronic messages, text messages, public announcements, internet postings, spreadsheets and handwritten notes, among others. It covers the period from 90 days prior to the rejection of the first St. George incorporation petition in 2014 to the present.
“This is a continuing obligation that will exist through the course of this dispute and any resulting litigation,” the letter concludes.
Though the language is strong, a member of Pierson’s legal team, attorney Brett Furr, says a litigation hold notice is standard in a large, complex case.
“This is a typical letter you send,” Furr says. “It is not indicative of anything they’ve done right or wrong. It’s just the first step towards filing a lawsuit.”
Furr swore that the letter doesn’t indicate “some sour-grapes deal,” which is laughable. That’s precisely what it is.
The question the City Hall Gang, who Furr and his boss Pierson represent – though the specific plaintiff in this prospective lawsuit has yet to come forward – is going to have to answer at some point is this: why is incorporating a city in an unincorporated area a violation of the 14th Amendment rights of people who don’t live there?
That’s not a great question for them. Because at the end of the day, their answer comes down to an assertion that people inside the city limits of Baton Rouge have the right to make tax slaves of people outside of those city limits.
The harm they’re going to allege – the reason they’re going to say it’s their business if St. George wants to incorporate – is that tax dollars currently being spent in Baton Rouge are going to be unavailable in the future.
Meaning that St. George’s incorporation will prevent the city-parish from stealing St. Georgeans’ money and spending it inside Baton Rouge, and that somehow this change in the status quo, rather than the status quo ante itself, is unjust.
That’s a Bizarro World argument, and one it’s difficult to imagine will bear fruit in a court of law.
Now, it’s a 50-50 proposition whether that argument will win at the district court level. When this suit is filed, there’s an excellent chance it will end up with Wilson Fields, Janie Clark or Trudy White as the judge – and if that’s how it goes don’t be surprised if Pierson magically wins some sort of injunction which prevents St. George from moving forward.
If not, the suit will get thrown out immediately.
All this litigation will do is delay the inevitable, mind you. St. George was incorporated due to a legal and constitutional process vetting along the way, and it follows a precedent followed in previous municipal incorporations. This suit is not going to be successful over the long haul.
But Broome and the gang don’t care. This is all about trying to hold St. George off until a year from now, when Broome is up for re-election. She needs to show some patina of competence in some respect of her job, something which has for three years eluded her, and her brain trust believes stopping St. George from becoming a functional city will suffice.
It doesn’t have to be like this, of course. There could be cooperation between the mayor-president’s office and the new city of St. George for the benefit of the entire parish. To get there Broome is going to have to be voted out of office in favor of someone more intelligent and competent. And whoever that person is, getting their campaign up and running can’t happen soon enough.