Lawson received 1587 votes but “was never a candidate” asserts Matassa

Wayne “Lawson was never a ‘candidate’ as that term in used in our law, was never qualified, and was never covered by 18:1461.5(4)” reads Paragraph 5 of Kenny Matassa’s Motion to Quash filed Thursday morning.  Thus, the disgraced Ascension parish president’s legal team argues, the bribery indictment against Matassa should be dismissed because the operative statute “requires that the party bribed, the recipient of the bribe, be a ‘candidate.'”

In his supporting Memorandum Lewis Unglesby, making the prosecution’s case, takes up the question: What constitutes “a candidate?”.  He writes:

“In all cases of statutory interpretation, legislative intent is the fundamental question.  The start is the language of the statute.  When it is clear and unambiguous and its application does not lead to absurd consequences, its language must be given effect, and its provisions must be construed so as to give effect to the purpose indicated.  The words must be given their generally understood meaning.” Citing La. R.S. 1:3.

What is the “generally understood meaning” of “candidate?”  What was the legislature’s intent when it enacted 18:1461.5?

Even though Lawson received 1587 votes in the November 8, 2016 Division E, Gonzales City Council election, Unglesby’s attached Memorandum in Support repeats, Lawson “never qualified to be a candidate and he never takes the actions necessary to be qualified.”  In Paragraph 19 of the Motion he writes “Lawson qualifies on July 21, 2016” but “Lawson was never a qualified candidate under the definition and facts” (Paragraph 22).

And yet Ascension’s Clerk of Court accepted Lawson’s qualifying documents on July 21, 2016, Louisiana’s Secretary of State added him to the ballot for November 8, 2016.  Matassa and his co-defendant certainly seem to have thought Lawson a candidate from July 27-29…

According to Matassa’s motion (Paragraph 17) “A qualification for the office of Council Member for the City of Gonzales is controlled by La. R.S. 33:384 and 18:385.  18:385 states; “The qualifications of the aldermen shall be the same as are prescribed for the mayor.”  33:384 is entitled: Qualifications of Mayor states in its entirety:

“The mayor shall be an elector of the municipality who at the time of qualification as a candidate for the office of mayor shall have been domiciled and actually resided for at least the immediately preceding year in the municipality.”

While Matassa claims Lawson failed to meet that residency requirement, the gist of his Motion to Quash is that Lawson swore to knowingly false statements on his “Notice of Candidacy” qualifying documents, and July 21, 2016 was not the first time.

Pair of Aces or just two jokers? Lewis Unglesby went to court without his client Wednesday

According to Unglesby (Paragraph 7) “Lawson ran in 1999 for State Representative” and (Paragraph 9) “Lawson ran for State Representative District 58 on October 4, 2003…”  but he was not a candidate in those elections either.  Matassa has engaged the services of another brilliant legal mind, R. Gray Sexton’s, which produced a lengthy affidavit to bolster the argument (how deep into Kenny’s pocket is Unglesby digging?).

Citing Revised Statutes 18:492, 18:1511.1 and 18:491 Sexton opines:

The Election Code, in turn, establishes that a false certification in this regard that is set forth in the ‘Notice of Candidacy’ is ground for disqualification of the candidate.  The Louisiana Board of Ethics, in its capacity as the Supervisory Committee on Campaign Finance Disclosure, has been given the duty of enforcement of the CFDA, and has standing to challenge a person’s candidacy for violations of the Campaign Finance Disclosure Act.”

Among 54 pages of supporting documentation Unglesby includes…

multiple letters from Louisiana Board of Ethics to Lawson.  On July 24, 2015 the Board informed Lawson of outstanding late fees assessed against him writing:

“Please be advised that La. R.S. 18:492 and 18:463 provide that the Board may object to the candidacy of a person who, upon qualifying for elected office, erroneously certifies that he does not have any outstanding fines, fees, or penalties pursuant to the Campaign Finance Disclosure Act.

This letter serves as your notification that you have an outstanding campaign finance late fee and that this office will object to your candidacy to any elected office as long as the late fee order remains unsatisfied, even if you have a payment plan.”

But the Board of Ethics never did object to Wayne Lawson’s candidacy.

18:492  Grounds for an objection to candidacy, specifically includes  “(3)  The defendant does not meet the qualifications for the office he seeks in the primary election.”  It also includes “(5) The defendant falsely certified on his notice of candidacy that he does not  owe any outstanding fines, fees, or penalties pursuant to the Campaign Finance Disclosure Act…”

18:491 Standing to object to candidacy reads:

A. A registered voter may bring an action objecting to the candidacy of a person who qualified as a candidate in a primary election for an office for which the plaintiff is qualified to vote.

B. A registered voter may present evidence that a candidate has illegally qualified for elective office. The evidence may be presented to the respective parish district attorney, who shall determine whether or not the evidence presented establishes grounds for objecting to such candidacy and if the district attorney makes such a determination he shall file an action objecting to candidacy within the time limitation provided in R.S. 18:493.

C. In addition to the persons with standing to bring an action objecting to candidacy as provided in Subsections A and B of this Section:

(1) The Supervisory Committee on Campaign Finance Disclosure shall bring or join in an action objecting to the candidacy of a person who qualified as a candidate in a primary election for an office on the grounds provided in R.S. 18:492(A)(5).

18:493.  Time for objecting to candidacy

“An action objecting to candidacy shall be commenced in a court of competent jurisdiction within seven days after the close of qualifications for candidates in the primary election.”

Nothing prevented Kenny Matassa from objecting to Lawson’s candidacy in the manner prescribed by law instead of offering Lawson a bribe to withdraw his candidacy.

Gray Sexton opines:

“Mr. Lawson at the time of qualifying did not meet the qualifications for office and had not taken the action necessary under the laws of the State to properly qualify for office…The Election Code, in turn, establishes that a false certification in this regard that is set forth in ‘Notice of Candidacy’ is a ground for disqualification of the candidate.

Question: If Lawson was not a candidate, how could he be disqualified as a candidate?

Unfortunately for Kenny Matassa, Sexton’s opinion is irrelevant because the only one that counts is Judge Jason Verdigets’.  In our opinion Sexton’s opinion should be stricken from the record of this proceeding…and we think it is erroneous.  Sexton claims to have reviewed La. R.S. 18:1483 in preparation for his expert testimony.  Interestingly enough the statute defines “Candidate.”

18:1483 (3)(a)  “Candidate” means a person who seeks nomination or election to public office…”

“An individual shall be deemed to seek nomination or election to such office if he has: (ii)  Taken the action necessary under the laws of the state of Louisiana to qualify himself for nomination or election to public office.”  The statute at issue is found in Louisiana Election Campaign Finance law.

On the off  chance the Court buys his argument, there is always La. R.S. 14:27 which defines “Attempt” as:

“Any person who, having a specific intent to commit a crime, does or omits an act for the purpose of and tending directly toward the accomplishing of his object is guilty of an attempt to commit the offense intended; and it shall be immaterial whether, under the circumstances, he would have actually accomplished his purpose.”

“Fine or imprisonment shall not exceed one-half of the largest fine, or one-half of the longest term of imprisonment prescribed for the offense so attempted, or both.”