Debate heads to appeals court

Third Circuit to hear arguments in domiciliary residence case

The Third Circuit Court of Appeal will pick up the debate next week of a DeRidder city councilman declared ineligible for his seat.

The court will hear oral arguments at 11 a.m. Oct. 31 as to whether city councilman at-large Michael D. Harris is eligible for his elected seat based upon his domiciliary residence.

On Oct. 15, retired Natchitoches Parish Judge Eric Harrington ruled that Harris did not have a domiciliary residence within city limits as is required by the DeRidder City Charter, and declared his seat vacant.

During the trial Oct. 8, Harris testified to having dual residency and said he lives in two homes; one located on Lake Court Drive, inside city limits, and another on Harmony Trail, which is outside of limits.

Evidence presented during the trial reflected that Harris spent more time at his residence outside of city limits and that both the water and electricity had been turned off for extended periods of time at the Lake Court address.

In his brief filed on Wednesday, Harris’ attorney Michael McHale claimed the trial court committed "manifest error" by considering evidence that preceded Harris’ swearing in on July 2.

"Based on the City Charter and the Petition filed in this matter the only relevant evidence would be from the time that Mr. Harris became a council member which was July 2," McHale’s brief reads.

During the trial, testimony from Harris’ wife and son showed that they also spend much of their time at the Harmony Trail home, but in his brief McHale claimed that information was irrelevant, based upon La. Civil Code Article 40.

"Where his wife and son spend their time or where they are domiciled is moot," McHale said.

McHale also cited what he believed was an inequality in District Attorney James Lestage’s investigation because it did not involve conducting interviews with residents on Lake Court.

Lestage’s investigation was conducted in August after his office received a written complaint from former mayor Ron Roberts that Harris did not have the required domiciliary address.

Harris was elected to the city council seat in an April run-off election.

Lestage has until Friday to submit his own brief to the court, before oral arguments are made next week.””Michael Harris – Court