Ruling: Harris ineligible

Judge declares DeRidder council seat vacant

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A judge has declared the seat of a DeRidder city councilman vacant after a hearing last week to argue his eligibility in the 36th Judicial District Court.

Retired Natchitoches Parish Judge Eric Harrington ruled Monday that city councilman Michael D. Harris does not meet the residence or domicile requirements mandated by the DeRidder City Charter. Harrington made his ruling just one week after a hearing on Oct. 8 where District Attorney James Lestage presented evidence to show that he did not believe Harris primarily resided within DeRidder’s city limits.

In his ruling, Harrington declared that the burden to prove Harris did not have a domiciliary residence in city limits was on Lestage, and that Lestage met that burden.

“This court does not find this to be a close case, and any presumptions have been easily overcome by the evidence presented,” Harrington stated in his decision.

Harris was elected as a city councilman at-large in an April 28 run-off election and was sworn in on July 2. Last month, Lestage filed suit to declare Harris’ seat vacant after an investigation conducted by his office in August showed that Harris was domiciled outside of city limits.

In his decision, Harrington cited numerous contradictions in the testimony of Harris and his wife during their testimony last week. He said that despite the couple’s claims to be domiciled at their Lake Court Drive home within city limits, their habitual actions showed that they mostly resided at their home on Harmony Trail outside city limits.

“When Mr. Harris transferred the homestead exemption back to Lake Court Drive based on political advice, their life in relation to the house did not change. They evidenced no ‘intention to make a new principal establishment or home’,” Harrington stated, citing a 1998 ruling in Herpin v. Boudreaux in which the state determined that “domicile” is based on the actual state of facts and not what one declares them to be.

Harrington ruled that Harris will be responsible for court costs associated with last week’s hearing.

Lestage said that he believed Harrington’s ruling was “legally sound and well-reasoned”.

“I look forward to focusing on the many other duties that this job requires. I will continue to serve the people of Beauregard Parish to the best of my abilities,” Lestage stated.

Harris said that he intends to appeal the decision.

In his decision, retired Natchitoches Parish Judge Eric Harrington cited numerous contradictions in the testimony of Michael D. Harris and his wife during their testimony last week.

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