Candidate files intervention in city redistricting lawsuit

Published 8:27 am Wednesday, October 29, 2014

In an intervention to the redistricting lawsuit filed on Oct. 20, Bogalusa mayoral candidate Tina Ratliff Boley has petitioned the court to dismiss the lawsuit for “lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim in which relief can be granted.”

Ratliff’s action was in response to Bogalusa City Council candidate Emma Dixon filing a “friendly” lawsuit with the 22nd Judicial District Court seeking a restraining order to prevent voting in the Nov. 4 Bogalusa City Council race for Districts B and C. The petition also included Justin Arnold and other petitioners. Dixon and Arnold qualified to run for District B but were later notified by the Louisiana Secretary of State and Washington Parish Registrar of Voters that they actually reside in District C.

In the lawsuit, Ratliff noted how redistricting changed the voting ratio between black and white voters and described how redistricting plans the city submitted to the Justice Department for review were figured.

She said the plan selected best suited the findings of the 2010 Census, which showed a declining white population and a growing black population. The plan changed District C to a majority black district. In accordance with the census results, three out of five districts were to be majority black, according to Ratliff. This involved making some changes to the boundaries of Districts B and C.

“The city of Bogalusa did well in ensuring the public was aware of the redistricting,” Ratliff said in the suit.

Ratliff said in the petition there were public hearings on the matter in the summer of 2012, including the Aug. 7, 2012, hearing when the plan was introduced, and advertised three days later. The plan was unanimously adopted by ordinance during the regular City Council meeting on Aug. 21, 2012. The suit said the ordinance was delivered to Mayor Charles Mizell on Aug. 21, 2012, and published in The Daily News on Aug. 24, 2012, “with a detailed descriptive list of the boundaries and changes as well as a color-coded map depicting the changes.”

Bogalusa Personnel Director Sandy Bloom said she couldn’t understand how the plan was overlooked by those running for office.

“I can’t speak about how they missed it,” Bloom said. “I know from the city’s standpoint we did everything required of us. We have the copy of our FedEx receipt of when we sent it to the Secretary of State and Justice Department, which was required. We sent it October of 2012.”

The Justice Department cleared the redistricting plan on Dec. 10, 2012.

“Now two years later, the City of Bogalusa, Secretary of State and Registrar of Voters, along with the plaintiffs, try to invoke a ‘friendly’ lawsuit to have the redistricting completed in 2012 declared null and void and requesting the court to revert back to the old plan,” Ratliff said. “It is asking the court to take a constitutionally sound, geographically proportionate redistricting plan and revert it to one that is at this time unconstitutional and disproportionate.”

Ratliff went on to say what the suit hoped to do.

“The suit is asking the judge to nullify an accomplishment for persons of color in District C,” Ratliff said. “Minority candidates qualifying in that district are currently more favorably situated to win an election. For this reason, Mr. Brian McCree ran for the office of councilman in District E.”

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed by Dixon also included Washington Parish NAACP President Elbert Buckley, Fate Farrell, Bogalusa Voters’ League President Marvin Austin and Arnold. The plaintiffs requested a Show Cause hearing enjoining the Nov. 4 election. The Show Cause hearing is scheduled to be heard on Thursday morning at 10:30 a.m. before Judge William J. Knight. Ratliff was served papers on Tuesday in that case.

“The problem in a nutshell is that Emma Dixon and Justin Arnold are two candidates whose residences fall in the area that was moved from District B to District C,” Ratliff said. “In 2012, no one knew they would run for any office, so this is not a personal attack on either person. A neutral expert from another jurisdiction was hired to complete the proposed plans for the redistricting, and based on his expertise, the plans were created and sent to Bogalusa for review. Whenever there is a redistricting, boundaries are changed, and experts are chosen to decide who is affected. Justin Arnold’s and Emma Dixon’s problem with having to move, if elected, is an important issue. However, it should not be used as a catalyst to nullify a perfectly sound redistricting plan. The City of Bogalusa does not have surplus money to spend on another redistricting plan when the one that it has properly adopted is constitutional.”

Ratliff’s intervention says the matters to be heard before the court require interpretation of federal law and would erode rights afforded by the 14th and 15th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“It is unfortunate that Ms. Dixon and Mr. Arnold are now qualified in areas affected by the redistricting.” Ratliff said in her petition. “But the entire African-American population, especially the 3,700-plus registered black voters, are not going to give up accomplishments received from laws enacted for their protection by a ‘friendly’ suit. This is by no means a ‘friendly’ suit. I am surprised that the people who instituted the lawsuit did not understand or were willing to give up the rights of all the black residents of Bogalusa for the sake of their concern that can be fixed by a less intrusive measure.”

Ratliff’s intervention seeks to dismiss the lawsuit “for lack of the 22nd District Court of Washington Parish to hear the federal issues without an express waiver of sovereign immunity.” This means the court, which is a district-level court, did not have the jurisdiction to hear the case.

The intervention also states that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim for which relief can be granted. The petition alleges that the redistricting itself was not done until 2014.

“This is not true,” Ratliff said in the intervention. “The redistricting was done in 2012. The implementation of the proper redistricting was not done until 2014, and as such the lawsuit basis and claim is founded upon a false precept. As such, it states no claim for which relief can be granted and should be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.”

Defendants in Dixon’s lawsuit include the City of Bogalusa, Washington Parish Registrar of Voters Randy Strickland and Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler.