The clock and the calendar are running on Vanessa Anseman’s legal battle to remain an eligible candidate on the March 25 ballot for the Third Circuit Court of Appeal. Questions about her eligibility were first reported by The IND on Feb. 23.
Stephen Lafleur, who attended LSU Law School with Anseman and is with the Alexandria law firm of Gold Weems, is representing her.
“There were two issues at stake in the court on Monday,” Lafleur tells The IND in a telephone interview Wednesday. “We’re joining with the secretary of state in challenging the judge’s decision on the exception of action raised by removing my client’s name from the ballot outside the time frame set out by law. We’re appealing the ruling on the qualification issue on our own, as the secretary of state has no role in that matter.”
The case is on an expedited track that will leave little or no time for an appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court should it be needed.
Judge Harris signed the ruling Tuesday morning in Opelousas, according to Donald Richard, the 27th JDC assistant district attorney who argued the case for District Attorney Earl Taylor.
“That starts the appeal clock,” Richard told The IND Tuesday. “It takes about 48 hours to get the transcript and record of the hearing produced and advanced to the appeal court.”
Lafleur says he will file his brief Thursday.
“I expect that oral arguments will be heard early next week in front of an en bank hearing of the court,” Lafleur says. There are 11 judges currently on the Third Circuit. Anseman, Candyce Gagnard Perret and Susan Theall are vying to fill the unexpired term of former Judge Jimmy Genovese, who was elected to the Lousiana Supreme Court last November. Judge Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux is chief judge of the Third Circuit.
Lafleur says he expects the appellate court to render an opinion on the case “by the end of next week,” which would put the decision within hours of the opening of the polls on March 25.
“I’ve never been involved in this kind of election challenge with so tight a time frame,” Lafleur declares. “It’s pretty much present and run.”
Anseman’s legal battled briefly erupted into a dispute with KLFY TV-10 that began Monday evening and carried into Tuesday morning.
Laura Hargis notified Anseman’s media consultant, Roy Fletcher, by email Tuesday morning, less than half an hour after Judge Harris signed his ruling, that the station would be pulling the campaign’s ads from its airwaves.
“I was advised by our legal counsel that we are to pull the Anseman spots because she has been deemed as not qualified as an elligibel (sic) candidate,” Hargis wrote. “Once the dispute is settled and she is deemed an eligible qualified candidate, we are more than happy to reinstate the schedule. I have preempted the spots effective 12N today.”
Had the ads been pulled, it could have had a devastating impact on Anseman’s candidacy, as Fletcher argued to Hargis in his email response to her notice.
The issue arose from a Federal Communications Commission form in which each campaign must aver that the candidate “is a legally qualified candidate for the position.”
Fletcher argues that there has been no final decision on his candidate’s eligibility.
“Just as a criminal or defendant in a personal injury suit or such, one is not adjudged guilty or liable until they have had their due process rights,” Fletcher told the station. “Here, Ms. Anseman has not been afforded her full contingent of due process rights. Thus, the action of your stations to preempt her television would be tantamount to rendering judgement without due process. In this regard, I would argue the station’s actions are premature.”
The station ultimately did not pull Anseman’s ads, although Fletcher only learned about it in a Tuesday evening follow-up interview with The IND. “It would have been nice if they’d have let me know,” Fletcher says.
Fletcher says that Hargis never identified the station’s attorney, nor did she tell him if the station was acting in response to a complaint.
KLFY is in the midst of a change of ownership and Hargis has been serving as interim general manager during the transition period. The new management team from NexStar Media Group is scheduled to assume control of the station this week, according to a source familiar with the process.