LAFAYETTE — Lafayette Consolidated Government has reached a settlement in principle with a man who challenged the constitutionality of the city’s junked vehicle ordinance in a 2007 lawsuit.
George Phillips Jr. sued the city in response to the seizure of four of his vehicles — a 1985 Lincoln Town Car, a 1995 Dodge pickup, a 1986 Plymouth Voyager and a 1988 Plymouth Grand Fury, all of which were parked at rental property owned by Phillips.
Phillips alleged in court records that the ordinance is unfairly vague and discriminates against people in certain areas of town. The property where Phillips’ vehicles were seized is on the north side of town, where most of the junked vehicle violations have occurred.
Chief Administrative Officer Dee Stanley confirmed Tuesday that a settlement had been reached, although settlement documents have not yet been executed.
The civil case, which was scheduled for trial on Monday, had been put on hold after the city successfully argued that it should be delayed until the related criminal case against Phillips was resolved.
That case culminated in the dismissal of the four misdemeanor junked vehicle violations against Phillips in November 2010.
While terms of the settlement were not available Tuesday, Stanley said the move now opens the door for the city’s legal counsel to begin revising the ordinance in a fashion that “we think will pass legal muster.”
Anthony Fazzio, Phillips’ attorney, did not return a call to his office or respond to an email Monday. He has not responded to previous requests for comment.
In an earlier ruling, 15th Judicial District Judge Edward Rubin wrote that the ordinance’s exemption for vehicles kept in an enclosed building, including a carport or garage, “could result in the discrimination against citizens who do not have or otherwise possess a carport or garage.”
Rubin also wrote that to “confiscate the property of any citizen under an ordinance” based upon the subjective notion of appearance or location of one’s property is a violation of basic constitutional law.
The city must find a way to balance government’s response to citizen requests while at the same time finding something that’s constitutional, Stanley said.
“Our legal department is looking at that now,” Stanley said, adding that he did not know how long that might take. “Our intent is to try to get this done sooner rather than later because it has gone on long enough.”
Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux said he still gets calls about junked vehicles within his district.
“Something has to be done, but certainly I would not advocate for anything that is not constitutionally sound,” Boudreaux said.
It is important to note that this ordinance and the concerns about it were not brought forth by city government, Boudreaux said, but rather by residents who were negatively affected by a problem within their community.
“The issue and concern is a legitimate one,” Boudreaux said.
The task moving forward is to learn from the court experience and to craft an ordinance that takes those considerations under advisement, the councilman said.
“I think there is something of value we’re going to be able to take from this,” Boudreaux said.