Court Rejects Landry’s Attempted Power Grab of Red River Waterway Commission

Last September, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry attempted to ingratiate himself with far-right conservatives in Shreveport and Bossier City by denouncing Gov. John Bel Edwards for appointing an African American veteran from Rapides Parish to a relatively obscure political subdivision, the Red River Waterway Commission (RRWC). As its name suggests, the RRWC is responsible for “establishing, operating, and maintaining” the Red River, and although it may not be a well-known commission, the RRWC has overseen more than $2 billion of projects during the past half-century.

Landry told anyone who would listen that Gov. Edwards had violated the state constitution by not handing over the seat to the wife of Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator, one of the state’s most powerful Republican officials.

Landry issued an advisory opinion from his office. He peddled his bizarre interpretation of the law on a local talk radio show and to conservative bloggers. He staged a press conference in Shreveport. Both the Shreveport Times and The Town Talk published front-page reports about the manufactured controversy.

And then he filed a lawsuit.

For additional background, I wrote about the brouhaha on Sept. 22nd here on the Bayou Brief in a report titled “Praetorian Law.

On Tuesday, Judge Lala Sylvester of the Tenth Judicial District Court in Natchitoches issued a smartly-considered 17-page opinion, rejecting Landry’s arguments in meticulous detail.

Judge Lala Sylvester

At its core, Landry’s argument was that Ms. Prator was entitled to an appointment because she had been recommended to the governor for a district-level seat after it became vacant due to the death of Commissioner Mickey Prestridge. The governor, instead, decided to shift one of his district-level appointees from Shreveport to an at-large position, which freed up a spot that had been traditionally held by a resident of Central Louisiana. In September, I described the controversy as “the pettiest and most ridiculous state political news story of the year, which is really saying something.”

Landry styled his case as The State of Louisiana, through Jeff Landry, in his official capacity as attorney general of the state, and Carolyn Prator versus The Red River Waterway Commission, Michael Deville, and Ronald F. Lattier. The abbreviated title is simply State of Louisiana et. al. v. Red River Waterway Comm’n et. al., which was an absurdity not lost on Judge Sylvester.

Landry, presenting himself as acting on behalf of the state, was attempting to sue Gov. John Bel Edwards, yet he neglected to even name the governor as a defendant. To that end, Judge Sylvester provided Landry with an additional 45 days to amend his petition in order to include the governor, though it seems abundantly clear this would be an exercise in futility.

In her opinion, she methodically unpacked and swiftly dispensed of Landry’s entire legal theory, dismissing with prejudice all of his claims under the Intrusion into Office Act as well as “the particular declaratory and injunctive relief sought by Plaintiffs.” She found those claims “unavailable as a matter of law.” By dismissing those claims with prejudice, Judge Sylvester effectively kicked Landry out of the courtroom.

“Although the injunctive and declaratory relief sought wisely falls short of compelling the Commission to place Ms. Prator on the Commission or recognize her as the Caddo Parish member, Plaintiffs, despite their hair-splitting arguments to the contrary, are nonetheless using injunctive proceedings to somewhat confine the Commission unless and until Ms. Prator is appointed to the office of Caddo Parish member, something only the governor can do,” Judge Sylvester wrote.

The judge ruled that “Ms. Prator has no claim to the Office of Commission Member because she does not possess the requisite muniment of title.” Put simply, it is not enough to merely possess a sense of entitlement; you must also prove you actually possess the title. And the only person with the constitutional authority to bestow that title is the governor. “The Commission is a legislative body for whom the governor is exclusively responsible as well as accountable for its membership,” she explained (emphasis hers).

Carolyn Prator, therefore, does not even the right to seek a remedy from the court. As I reported in September, Landry’s arguments amounted to nothing more than political grandstanding and were never grounded in legitimate constitutional or legal analysis.

His decision to file suit against the Red River Waterway Commission may seem insignificant, but it is a reminder that the state attorney general is not only spending taxpayer money on preventing efforts to end discrimination against the LGBTQ community or on repealing the law prohibiting health insurance companies from covering Americans with preexisting conditions or on stripping away environmental protections in order to pad the pockets of Big Oil, he is also spending public dollars on self-promotional junk, like 30,000 plastic go-cups, and efforts to force the governor to appoint his friends to positions to which they merely feel entitled.