Baton Rouge judge issues preliminary injunction in constable, justice of the peace case

A new Louisiana law that would force incumbent constables and justices of the peace who are 70 or older into retirement was put on hold Friday by a Baton Rouge state judge.

District Judge Tim Kelley replaced the temporary restraining order he issued Aug. 18 with a preliminary injunction, saying the Louisiana Justice of the Peace and Constables Association demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of a lawsuit the group filed against the state.

The preliminary injunction indefinitely blocks enforcement of the new law. A future hearing date has not been set.

William Bryan, an attorney for the state, did not object to Kelley granting the injunction.

Association attorney Domoine Rutledge argued at Friday’s hearing that the new law — approved during the recent legislative session — illegally discriminates on the basis of age. He noted there are no age restrictions for sheriffs or chiefs of police.

Rutledge also pointed out that, in the same legislative session, state lawmakers approved a bill that specifically exempted the age limit from applying to any constable in Livingston Parish.

“I don’t know how the Legislature can do that, all in the same session,” he told the judge.

Connie Moore, a St. Tammany Parish justice of the peace and president of the justice of the peace and constables group, attended the hearing and said afterward that quite a few constables and justices of the peace who are 70 or older qualified between Aug. 20-22 to run for office again.

Moore said Kelley’s orders will allow “a lot of qualified, good people” to run for re-election.

The association noted in its suit there are nearly 800 elected constables and justices of the peace in the state, and perhaps a quarter of those officials would have been aged out of running again under the change.

Louisiana voters this fall will consider whether to repeal a provision in the state constitution that requires judges to retire after reaching 70 and finishing their current terms.

A law that sets a mandatory retirement age of 70 for constables and justices of the peace has been on the books since 2006, but it excluded anyone elected before then. State Sen. Elbert Guillory’s bill, which became Act 495, removed that exemption.

The change cruised through the Legislature this spring, with just one lawmaker voting against the bill on the floor. But as the qualifying period neared, the change drew outrage from some justices of the peace and constables.

Guillory, R-Opelousas, has pledged to revisit the law in next year’s legislative session.

Guillory submitted a sworn affidavit, which was attached to the association’s lawsuit, saying he wrote the legislation because he believed it would be requested by the justice of the peace group — something the association has denied.

When previously asked about the law, Guillory told The Associated Press that the unidentified man who suggested the law complained that the justices or constables are allowed to carry weapons under state law, but some are “in wheelchairs, some on oxygen tanks.”

Justices of the peace preside over small claims cases, have limited criminal jurisdiction, perform marriages, do some notary work and handle evictions. Constables serve eviction and civil suit papers. Like judges, justices of the peace and constables are elected officials.