Ruling: BR City Court election to go forward

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING --  Christina B. Peck, right, an attorney for city-parish government in Baton Rouge, exits the federal courthouse Friday, after a hearing over alleged dilution of black votes in city judge elections. Behind Peck is Special Assistant Parish Attorney James Hilburn. A federal judge ruled city judge elections can proceed Tuesday, but said the case will resume later. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Christina B. Peck, right, an attorney for city-parish government in Baton Rouge, exits the federal courthouse Friday, after a hearing over alleged dilution of black votes in city judge elections. Behind Peck is Special Assistant Parish Attorney James Hilburn. A federal judge ruled city judge elections can proceed Tuesday, but said the case will resume later.

City Court judicial elections in Baton Rouge will proceed normally Tuesday, a federal judge ruled Friday.

Chief U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson denied a request by black resident Kenneth Hall for a preliminary injunction that would have blocked certification of election results in the City Court races. Hall wanted certification delayed until after a court decision on whether his claim that judges’ election district boundaries unconstitutionally dilute black residents’ voting strength.

Jackson added in his ruling, however, that Hall’s civil rights lawsuit will proceed in his court. Attorneys for the state, governor, attorney general, secretary of state and city-parish government had argued that the case should be dismissed without trial.

Jackson also noted: “All parties agree the court could order a second election at a later date.”

City Court’s current district boundaries were drawn in 1993, when the city’s population was 60 percent white and 40 percent black, Hall attorneys Ronald R. Johnson, Joel G. Porter and Stephen M. Irving said in a civil rights lawsuit Hall filed Oct. 18.

Porter, who is black, is a candidate for the judgeship held by Alex “Brick” Wall. The white incumbent is seeking re-election to a six-year term.

The 2010 Census showed, “The city of Baton Rouge is now majority black,” Johnson told Jackson on Friday.

Johnson said 20 years of census records show black residents increased to 54.3 percent of the city’s population, while white residents dwindled to 37.8 percent.

Three of the current judges are white, however, and two are black.

“It is unfortunate that this action was filed just weeks before the election,” Jackson noted at the hearing.

The judge said Johnson provided “compelling evidence” that a change in district boundaries might be necessary.

“Counsel for the defendants have not challenged that information,” Jackson said, adding that he “cannot ignore the significant demographic changes.”

Prior to Jackson’s ruling, E. Wade Shows, attorney for Secretary of State Tom Schedler, told the judge a separate election for city judges would cost taxpayers $493,970.

Christina Peck, an attorney for city-parish government, added: “Let’s face it, your honor, this is a state that is short on money.”

Peck said the city would have to pay all costs for any separate election of city judges.

Johnson also questioned the practice that permits city judge elections to be decided by a plurality of voters instead of a majority.

Jackson, however, returned to the census records showing growth of a black majority among Baton Rouge residents.

“If this situation has existed so long, why hasn’t the Legislature done anything?” the judge mused, before adding: “I’m not trying to put the spotlight on the Legislature.”

Shows had questioned Jackson’s authority to hear Johnson’s case rather than refer it to a federal district court in Washington, D.C.

“I have jurisdiction,” Jackson said Friday.

The judge said action in the civil rights lawsuit will resume sometime after Tuesday’s elections.