Appeals court upholds councilman ruling
The Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal upheld Thursday an earlier Beauregard Parish trial decision declaring the seat of DeRidder City Councilman Michael D. Harris vacant.
The court affirmed the Oct. 15 decision by retired Natchitoches Parish Judge Eric Harrington that Harris was ineligible for his city councilman at-large seat because he lacked a domiciliary residence within city limits, a requirement mandated by the DeRidder City Charter.
In its written opinion, the appellate court conducted a review of the interpretation of the city’s charter and Harris’ argument that the Beauregard court committed manifest error by considering evidence dated before July 2, when he was sworn into office.
“We disagree,” the opinion reads. “Both sections of the city’s charter address an ‘elected’ official’s dual requirements of being domiciled and actually residing in the city of DeRidder.”
The court’s opinion stated that charter section 2-04(1) reaches back to a year before election qualifying papers are filed, referencing the council member elected, and requires that the council member should be domiciled in city limits for that full previous year.
“The evidence shows that Mr. Harris has not actually resided at Lake Court Drive since building the new house on Harmony Trail in 2015, therefore, Mr. Harris did not and does not meet the requirements of his office,” the opinion states.
In addition to declaring his seat vacant, the court found Harris responsible for the costs of the appeal process.
In a statement released to the American Press, Harris referenced an earlier lawsuit filed in May by former DeRidder mayor Ron Roberts after the April 28 run-off election.
“The fact that a well seasoned outgoing politician will inform me of this local ordinance after I won the election disturbs me, but my faith is strong and I will abide by the law. I love my city and will continue to serve in any capacity to make it a great place to live for all people,” Harris stated.
That lawsuit filed by Roberts was dismissed by Harrington because it did not follow the State Election Code, which requires all challenges to the eligibility of a candidate be filed within seven days of the end of qualifying.
In August, Roberts filed a formal complaint as a registered voter and private citizen to the office of District Attorney James Lestage, who is deemed the proper official for such complaints by state law. As is required by Louisiana statutes, Lestage then conducted an investigation that revealed to him that Harris did not meet the city charter’s domiciliary requirements.