Court refuses to review EBR School Board redistricting plan

A state appellate court denied on Thursday a request to review an Aug. 15 lower court decision that upheld a nine-member redistricting plan which shrinks the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board by two seats.

Alfreda Bester, attorney for the nine plaintiffs and general counsel for the Louisiana NAACP, said she’s disappointed at the denial by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal, but she plans to take matters immediately to a higher court.

“On to the (Louisiana) Supreme Court as soon as possible,” Bester said Thursday.

Bester has sought to have the nine-member plan, which was approved July 24, annulled before qualifying began Wednesday for the Nov. 4 election. As of early Thursday afternoon, 15 candidates, eight of them incumbents, had qualified to run for the nine School Board seats. Qualifying ends Friday.

The 1st Circuit Court of Appeal panel split two-to-one Thursday to deny Bester’s emergency request for review. Judges J. Michael McDonald and Randolph Parro voted to deny the request, and Judge William “Will” Crain was the lone vote to grant it. The appellate judges offered no reasons for denying the writ.

Bester said she’s encouraged at Judge Crain’s willingness to grant the review.

State District Judge Tim Kelley upheld the new maps Aug. 15 after a 2½-hour hearing. The plaintiffs are trying to get the School Board district boundaries reverted to the 11-member plan approved in November 2012.

Bester has argued the new maps are invalid because the School Board approved them after Dec. 31, 2012, a deadline in state law for local governments to reapportion using the previous decennial census data. Kelley disagreed, saying that law does not prohibit reapportioning again and again.

Kelley also ruled that School Board member Craig Freeman continues to be legally domiciled in District 6 and that his vote in favor of the new plan, which broke what would have otherwise been a 5-5 tie, was valid. The longtime LSU communications professor is in the process of moving to teach journalism at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, a job he started Monday.

Kelley also dismissed arguments that the new maps were not properly advertised in The Advocate in advance of the vote and that the constitutional rights of candidates were violated because the plan was approved the day after the deadline for qualifying by nomination, a move that can save a candidate hundreds of dollars in qualifying fees.