Councilman’s supporters rally in DeRidder

Supporters of a DeRidder city councilman declared ineligible for his seat last week rallied Tuesday afternoon on the steps of the Beauregard Parish courthouse.

President of the Southwest Louisiana Community Coalition for Action, Inc., Rev. J. L. Franklin, led a press conference in support of Michael D. Harris’ vow to fight back against a lawsuit formally filed on Friday by District Attorney James Lestage to declare Harris’ councilman at-large seat vacant.

“We are here today standing with Mr. Mike Harris because we believe in his integrity, we believe in his competence, and we believe in his passion to serve,” Franklin stated.

Franklin said that he and others at the coalition were “surprised and deeply saddened” by the suit’s filing, and accused former mayor Ron Roberts of causing dysfunction in the local community.

“It is causing division, it’s causing discord, because he refuses to accept the will of the people here in DeRidder,” Franklin stated.

In his suit, Lestage seeks to declare Harris’ seat vacant after determining in his investigation that Harris did not have a domiciliary residence within city limits – a requirement to serve on the council as mandated by the DeRidder City Charter.

The complaint against Harris’ ineligibility was filed by former mayor Ron Roberts on Aug. 8. Roberts had also previously filed suit against Harris in May while still in office as mayor. That lawsuit was dismissed in August after Judge Eric Herrington determined the city did not follow the Louisiana Election Code by challenging Harris’ eligibility within seven days of the end of qualifying in January. The suit did not make a ruling on Harris’ eligibility.

At the rally, Harris claimed the allegations against him were false, and that he believed they were a personal attack made against him by Roberts.

“DeRidder needs strong leadership, and I believe the people that voted for me voted for the right person,” Harris stated. “If Ron Roberts has an issue with that, then Ron Roberts himself needs to come see me and not hide behind Mr. Lestage.”

Some supporters of Harris have called for action from sitting mayor Misty Clanton, but on Tuesday Harris’ legal counsel Michael McHale said that Clanton lacked the authority to intervene.

Harris has also made complaints of what he said he believes is a level of nepotism in the local courts as he is represented by the city’s legal counsel David Lestage, the father of District Attorney Lestage.

While nothing had been filed as of Tuesday, McHale said that he and his client are considering their options to file a motion to recuse District Attorney Lestage from the litigation.

A hearing is expected to be set within 30 days.

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DeRidder city councilman Mike Harris (far left) was joined by supporters and his attorney Michael McHale (far right) Tuesday at a rally led by Rev J L Franklin (center), president of the Southwest LA Community Coalition for Action, Inc. Franklin led the rally in support of Harris’ vow to fight back against a lawsuit filed Friday to declare his council seat vacant. 

Pamela Sleezer/American Press