LIVINGSTON — The Livingston Parish School Board’s lawsuit against 51 landowners near French Settlement has been reassigned to state District Judge Wayne Ray Chutz after a second judge recused herself Monday.
State District Judge Zorraine Waguespack, of the 21st Judicial District, told attorneys in the case Monday that her daughter has worked for the School Board for 20 years.
School Board attorney Glen Petersen said he had no objection to Waguespack serving as judge in the case, but defense attorneys Donnie Floyd and David Voss formally requested her recusal “out of an abundance of caution,” noting it was “nothing personal.”
The School Board filed suit in January against landowners in a 143-acre tract just north of French Settlement that lies within the parish’s Section 16.
Congress adopted the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which initiated the rectangular survey of public lands, cutting the land into townships that were subdivided into 36 sections. In each township Section 16 was given to the state in trust for the benefit of public education.
Property deeds for those 640-acre sections have always belonged to the states.
In Louisiana, there is no state agency, board or commission that oversees Section 16 lands, leaving the matter to individual school systems.
Mineral rights and timber sales from the land could generate additional revenue for the district, Livingston school officials have said.
But three subdivisions have been built at least partially within Livingston Parish’s Section 16 — Colyell Campsites, Colyell Bay Campsites and Colyell Homesites — and many of the resulting lots are occupied by mobile homes or permanent structures.
The School Board alleges in the lawsuit that the state has no record of ever having sold any of the tract while one of the defense attorneys has said individual property records in the area date back at least to the 1850s.
Waguespack said Monday that she could be fair in the case but thought it appropriate to disclose her connection to the School Board before the hearing started.
“I just hate that it came this late, after you’ve already prepared,” Waguespack said. “I just found out that I would be hearing this case.”
Judge Doug Hughes previously recused himself from the case. His father, Milton Hughes, is a School Board member.
State court rules require a judge’s recusal if, among other reasons, “the judge’s parent, child or immediate family member is a party or attorney employed in the cause.”
The rules also permit, but do not require, a judge’s recusal if his or her immediate family member has a “substantial economic interest” in the suit’s outcome.
The suit had been set for a hearing Monday on the defendant-landowners’ motions to dismiss the case on several grounds, including a challenge to the district court’s jurisdiction.
Those motions have not yet been set for a new court date, according to the clerk’s office.