The case of the condemned former municipal councilor of Lafourche returns to the court of appeal
A state appeals court is examining the case of a former Lafourche city councilor who was convicted of filing false public records.
The court of appeal of the 1st circuit of Baton Rouge is examining this week the arguments of James Bourgeois, convicted in 2018 for having falsely declared that he was a resident of his district.
Bourgeois, who was suspended from his council seat shortly after his conviction, served as a city councilor for District 5, which includes Bayou Blue and parts of Pointe-aux-Chênes and Raceland. According to parish law, candidates for council must have lived in their respective districts for at least one year before the end of the election registration period.
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Bourgeois registered as a candidate on December 2, 2015 and indicated in his documents that he lived at 68 Magnolia Street in Raceland. However, prosecutors alleged that he instead used his Raceland home as a “camp,” where he occasionally hosted crayfish boils, parties and other events, but always returned to a home in Metairie, in the United States. Jefferson Parish.
After Bourgeois’ conviction, a judge gave him a three-year suspended sentence and ordered him to serve two years of supervised probation and 200 hours of community service.
Citing the lack of evidence, Circuit 1 overturned the conviction on June 17, 2020, prompting the Lafourche Parish Attorney’s Office to take the case to the New Orleans State Supreme Court, which restored conviction and sentence in May.
Lawyer Mark Plaisance, who represents Bourgeois, argued in court documents that the law does not require his client to stay in a residence in Lafourche once he has been elected.
“Any dispute over his absence from home after his election belonged solely to the parish council of Lafourche,” said Plaisance. “And, finally, the admission of irrelevant evidence is irreparably and damagingly damaging. This allowed the jury to see Bourgeois in an unfavorable light, as it allowed the state to insinuate that Bourgeois’ trip in 2017 was a clear indication that he was not domiciled in the parish of Lafourche for two years. earlier.
Bourgeois’ movements between parish lines were neither illegal nor wrong, Plaisance said.
“And this is not evidence that proves the motive, the expediency, the intention, the preparation, the plan, the knowledge, the identity, the absence of error or accident,” he said. he declares. “The number of trips made by Bourgeois inside and outside the parish of Lafourche two years after filing his affidavit of candidacy is not substantially relevant to whether he was domiciled in the parish of Lafourche on December 2, 2015. Rather, the admission of such evidence allowed the jury to incorrectly conclude that Bourgeois had engaged in such behavior for years, without any evidence to support this supposition.
The trial judge also gave jurors an incorrect definition of “domicile,” Plaisance said.
“As this court has repeatedly stated – and as the Supreme Court has stated in its opinion overturning this court’s ruling on lack of sufficient evidence – the civil definition of ‘domicile’ is’ residence ‘and’ intention to stay, ”he said. “Teaching the jury that in order to establish a home a person must have ‘the intention to stay put’ does not provide the proper definition. … The additional wording is incorrect, is not part of the statutory definition and is misleading. Because Bourgeois objected to the erroneous definition and because the jury was clearly confused by the definition – evidenced by three separate requests for the court to define the term – this court must set aside and remand for a new trial with directions regarding the correct definition. ”
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The defense maintains that there is an “overwhelming” amount of evidence showing that Bourgeois was domiciled in Lafourche when he filed the files.
“This evidence included Bourgeois’ driver’s license, voter registration, marriage license application, homestead exemption, active post office box, and registration of several vehicles that the state does not have. discovered, “Plaisance said.
The District 5 seat is now occupied by Councilor Jim Wendell.
The appeals court is expected to rule on the matter at a later date.
– Editor-in-Chief Dan Copp can be reached at 448-7639 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @DanVCopp.