Girard Park residents cry foul over city's intervention

by Leslie Turk

At least 15 homeowners in the Girard Park area say they were never served when LCG intervened in a lawsuit that seeks to nullify a 1940 covenant that protects the residential integrity of their neighborhood and they want a new trial.

Girard Park residents' ongoing battle with an unneighborly neighbor, attorney Jimmy Davidson, took an unexpected turn on Jan. 24 when a state district court judge ruled that if Davidson is successful in court, Lafayette Consolidated Government would be entitled to the same relief for property it owns in the area. That "relief," as this week's cover story analyzes, is Davidson's lawsuit against his neighbors to nullify a 1940 covenant that restricts Girard Park Drive frontage to residential use.

But those residents are asking the judge to nullify his judgment or grant a new trial, saying defendants in the original action were never served with the intervention before the decision was rendered by District Judge John Trahan, nor were they served or given any notice of the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. They also find fault with the intervention judgment, saying it "does not describe with particularity the property" as required by Article 1919 of the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure. What's more, the residents claim, no evidence was presented of any agreement of the involved property owners to terminate the covenant and there is no evidence as to the actual ownership of the property by LCG.

LCG maintains that two of its properties, the former Planetarium site and Heymann Memorial Park, are both part of the covenant in question. In Davidson's effort to void the covenant and sell his 4.1 acres at Girard Park and Hospital drives at their highest commercial value, he has been gathering support from affected residents since the mid-1990s and claims to now have releases from owners of 50 percent-plus of the total acreage affected by Act 153556. It appears that there is roughly 50 acres affected by the covenant.

Residents opposed to Davidson's lawsuit - he named 19 of his neighbors as defendants - have hired attorney Gary McGoffin to help them fight Davidson and the commercial intrusion that would result from voiding the covenant. McGoffin is confident his clients can win in court, noting in part that Davidson has yet to present a plat to account for all the property encumbered by the act. Because of that, it's unclear whether Davidson has the support he needs. In a separate legal filing fighting Davidson's effort to void the covenant, the residents are asking the court to force Davidson to prove how much acreage is affected and that he has the required support among those property owners.

LCG's attorney, however, believes Davidson has already proven his case. Mike Hebert told The Independent that after reviewing the matter, he concluded that Davidson "appears to have obtained the consents of a necessary number of property owners to have the restriction lifted." Hebert says it is in LCG's best interest to seek the same relief, which is why he filed the Dec. 14 Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. "As a general proposition, it is in the best interest of every individual property owner to have the most unrestricted use of its property available," he says. "This proposition is even implicitly recognized by the Louisiana Civil Code, which, in Article 778, provides in pertinent part that Doubt as to the existence, validity, or extent of building restrictions is resolved in favor of the unrestricted use of the immovable.'"

If LCG does not participate in the lawsuit, Hebert notes, "it is legally questionable whether rulings in the suit would bind LCG or apply to LCG's property. In an effort to remove any doubt on that matter, my opinion was that LCG should intervene in the suit."

Hebert maintains the intervention is a way to avoid the expense of future legal proceedings to determine whether the restriction applies to LCG's property.

But residents who are fighting Davidson - the president of the Louisiana State Bar Association - believe the city's action was premature and that they were intentionally, and improperly, left out of the process.

"I have no idea what [Hebert] looked at. When I checked out the suit record, there was no evidence. I don't know if they put any evidence in," McGoffin says.

For their part, Davidson and LCG have filed a Joint Motion to Reconsider Judgment on the Pleadings and are asking the court to rehear the case at the same time, acknowledging that the defendants were not notified of LCG's intervention.