Newspaper owner and former legislator Woody Jenkins announced today that he’s not going to appeal a decision challenging the annexation of the Mall of Louisiana into the city of Baton Rouge.
He filed his lawsuit last year, saying the annexation was unreasonable because it was missing the anchor stores.
The merits of the lawsuit were never litigated, because the case was ultimately tossed with the state and appellate judges agreeing that Jenkins did not have standing to challenge the annexation.
Jenkins initially said he would take his case to the state Supreme Court if necessary.
The Mall of Louisiana is considered a major financial generator for the city-parish government. It was annexed in an attempt to prevent the proposed city of St. George from being able to claim its tax dollars in the potential city.
Here’s Jenkins’ full statement:
After careful consideration, we have decided not to file an appeal in the case involving the Metro Council’s annexation of portions of the Mall of Louisiana.
We filed suit nearly one year ago, on June 12, 2014, challenging the lawless action by the Council in attempting to annex bits and pieces of the Mall. Despite the fact that the Plan of Government requires that all annexations be of a “compact body of land adjacent to the City,” their annexation looked like a batch of donuts, full of holes for Penney’s, Macy’s, Dillard’s, and Sears, which were not annexed. The Council failed to require the petition signatures and the property valuations required by the Plan of Government or to comply with the 10-day public notice requirements set by state law.
Despite our strong case challenging the illegality of the annexation, it has now been almost one year, and we have still not had our day in court on the merits of the case. State law provides that challenges to annexations will be tried expeditiously, and the Plan of Government provides that no annexation shall go into effect until a challenge has been resolved.
Nevertheless, the District Judge in the case, Janice Clark, took her time on the matter and never held a trial on the substance of our lawsuit. Instead, she ruled that I didn’t have “standing” to file the suit, despite the clear language of the Plan of Government that “any citizen of the City” of Baton Rouge has standing to file suit against an illegal annexation.
After long delays, we finally got a hearing before a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal. The decision by the Court of Appeal seemed to hinge on a statement by Judge John Guidry that the additional cost of providing police protection for the 15 million visitors to the Mall of Louisiana would be paid for by the additional revenue the City of Baton Rouge would receive by the sales taxes it would capture by annexing the Mall. That rationale was completely flawed because of our unique City-Parish government. The City of Baton Rouge already received the revenue from the sales taxes levied in the Mall of Louisiana, and the annexation had no effect whatsoever on sales tax collections.
All along, the opponents of incorporating St. George have said this suit is about St. George, whereas I have repeatedly said it is not about St. George but about trying to get the Metro Council to live within the Plan of Government that they adopted. The purported annexation is clearly illegal under the Plan of Government. However, they have effectively blocked any citizen of the City of Baton Rouge from challenging their illegal action by claiming citizens do not have “standing” to file suit.
The legal options for us were to ask for a rehearing at the Court of Appeal and then a writ of certiorari to the Louisiana Supreme Court. That process would take us to early 2016. At that point, the Supreme Court could remand the case to the Court of Appeal to reconsider its opinion. If we were successful at that point — nearly two years after filing suit — we would then be back in District Court with Judge Janice Clark to begin a trial on the merits of the case. That would begin the process all over again with appeals to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, taking perhaps another two years.
The entire process would take easily four years.
This is contrary to the Plan of Government that says any citizen can file suit within 30 days of an annexation, and the annexation would not go into effect until a final judgment. The City of Baton Rouge has been functioning as though the annexation occurred even though suit was filed against the annexation in June 2014.
I sat through the hearings Judge Clark held on the incorporation of the City of Central. She delayed and delayed until the Court of Appeal finally took the case away from her. In another matter, our newspaper, the Central City News, filed suit for access to public records, a procedure which under state law is supposed to be tried within 10 days of filing suit. Judge Kay Bates never held the trial on the merits of the case, and it took us four years to finally win before the Supreme Court.
It is clear that justice delayed is justice denied.
The majority of the Metro Council has been a willing participant in this charade and has funded their special counsel to prevent the Plan of Government and state law from being enforced in this annexation case.
Our attorney, Alex St. Amant, has done an excellent job in representing us in this case and has served pro bono without compensation as a service to the citizens of Baton Rouge. He is willing to continue to donate his valuable time and effort throughout this process. However, I can see when the legal deck is stacked against us. Simply put, even if we win in the Supreme Court after two years, we are back in Judge Clark’s court beginning the process all over again. I would rather devote our time and resources to other battles which will need to be fought. We are grateful for all those who have assisted in this suit, and we will continue our efforts in other ways.