Federal trial on City Court boundaries to resume in November

The trial of a civil rights lawsuit that seeks to redraw Baton Rouge City Court election boundaries will resume Nov. 12, without one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys who collapsed Aug. 6 in a federal courtroom three days into the trial.

Lawyer Ron Johnson had to be resuscitated in Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson’s courtroom and was hospitalized afterward. He is no longer in the hospital.

Jackson recessed the bench trial indefinitely after Johnson’s collapse.

A minute entry filed into the case record gives Johnson until Thursday to withdraw as counsel in the case. He was serving as lead counsel for plaintiff Kenneth Hall and intervenor Byron Sharper.

“He’s not going to be physically able to resume the trial,” Johnson’s co-counsel, Steve Irving, said Tuesday. “Ron is recovering. He’s going to be several months in recovery.”

Irving said he will take over as lead counsel for Hall and Sharper, and former state Sen. Cleo Fields will join the legal team. Irving said other lawyers may come on board as well.

If Jackson rules in favor of Hall and Sharper, Johnson may be able to return for the relief phase of the case, Irving said.

The 2012 suit alleges City Court election boundaries dilute the voting strength of black Baton Rouge residents.

City Court boundaries were drawn by the Legislature in 1993 when the city’s white residents totaled 60 percent of the population, the suit states. The 2010 census showed more than 54 percent of the city’s population is now black, while white residents dropped to about 38 percent, the suit contends.

Three of City Court’s five judges are white; two are black.