Federal court rules that elderly public officials can seek re-election
Those over 70 previously kept from seeking justice of peace, constable
Earl “Pie” Tastet has served as justice of the peace for 35 years but a recent state ammendment put his status in jeopardy because he was over the age of 70. However, a Baton Rouge court ruled that Tastet, and others, can run for office this fall.
A temporary stay was put in place last week by a federal court in Baton Rouge that will allow incumbent justices of the peace and constables who were to be forced out of duty for being over the age 70 to run for re-election this fall.
While a law was passed in 2006 disallowing those over the age of 70 from running for justice of the peace or constable, those who were already in office were grandfathered in and were not subjected to the age limitation. However, in the most recent state legislative session Sen. Elbert Guillory, of Opelousas, who himself just turned 70 in June, passed an amendment that applied the law to incumbents over the age of 70.
In St. Charles Parish that included District 2 Justice of the Peace Earl “Pie” Tastet, District 3 Justice of the Peace Henry Miller and District 6 Constable Milton Cambre. Of the three, only Cambre, 78, was not planning on running again.
“What we did is filed a suit in federal district court in Baton Rouge. We got a hearing with a judge on Monday that would allow us to qualify,” Miller said.
Tastet, 75, has been a justice of the peace for the past 35 years and is now serving in the same role temporarily for District 4 after L.J. Frickey’s resignation earlier this month. He said Guillory was way off base when he passed the law to remove the grandfathering amendment.
“I want to find out what the reason for him passing this because he is 70 years old himself. Look at Gov. Edwards, he’s 80 something and is running for Congress,” he said. “He won’t come out and say why he did this and I’d sure like to know why he is doing this.”
Tastet said now that the law has been stayed it is his feeling it will be overturned either by the court or reversed during next year’s legislature.
Miller, who has been a justice of the peace in St. Charles Parish for the past 31 years and is the former president of the Louisiana Justice of the Peace & Constables Association, echoed Tastet’s sentiment.
“In St. Charles in my 31 years I’ve seen everything you can see. Politically I’ve seen it all. This to me is the first one that is strictly age discrimination, it is not because somebody wasn’t doing their job and I don’t think it is fair,” he said.
He said the fact that the stay judgment allowing incumbents over the age of 70 to run came only two days prior to qualifying has changed the dynamics of the upcoming election.
“It definitely hurt us because a lot more people stoked up interest in running,” he said.
With the new law in place, Tastet made sure those in his district who would like to succeed him knew that he would not be able to run. That included Randy Muller Jr., of Luling, who Tastet felt would be a good replacement for him, but who he now finds himself running against.
“It kind of messed up things. When I was told I couldn’t run I told [Muller], who is running against me. His dad is a good friend of mine. I hate to see that, his dad just passed away a few months ago, but if I can run I’ll go ahead and run,” Tastet said.
In addition, the last-minute stay has put incumbents at a disadvantage because they have not put together a campaign since they didn’t think they would be able to run again.
“I have people begging for signs now. I have to see what I can do and if I have signs from the last time,” Tastet said.
In addition to the amendment being challenged, the initial 2006 law disallowing those 70 and over from running for constable or justice of the peace is undergoing a legal challenge. With that challenge still being undertaken, Henry Wolfe went ahead qualified for the 1st District justice of the peace seat despite being 72 years old and not having been in office before.
St. Charles Parish Registrar of Voters Brian Champagne said challenging a candidate’s ability to run is not part of his job and he has placed Wolfe on the ballot until he is notified otherwise.
“It is not up to me and from what I understand it is not up to [Clerk of Court Lance Marino]. It is up to someone to challenge it,” he said. “That is why the world is full of lawyers.”
Wolfe said he anticipates the law being overturned as a whole and being allowed to stay on the ballot for the Nov. 4 election.
“I think it is unconstitutional and certainly discriminatory,” he said.
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