NEW ORLEANS--As the election for Jefferson Parish president nears its deadline, candidates' ads face scrutiny as they attack, debate and examine their opponents.
Sometimes, these ads will offend an aspirant and a lawsuit is filed.
“Louisiana has a law that you can’t put out anything that is not true, that can be held liable--false ads. But this [filing a lawsuit] is a tactic that is used to basically address these negative ads. If you are unhappy with what the opponent is saying, you file lawsuit,” said Professor Edward Chervanak of the University of New Orleans, a political analyst.
Such is the circumstances between parish presidential candidates Elton Lagasse, a Jefferson Parish councilman, and Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni.
In a case filed on Oct. 8 in 24th Judicial District Court, Lagasse objected to an ad ran by Yenni’s campaign stating the councilman proposed tax increases without voter approval. Lagasse, a former Jefferson Parish public schools superintendent and school board member, called Yenni’s ad misleading and false.
“As long as there are popular elections, there is going to be negative advertising. It will always be there,” Chervanak said.
The 30-second ad in question tried to convince voters that Lagasse has a history of trying to raise residential property and sales taxes throughout his political career.
"Elton Lagasse proposed [more than] $20 million in tax increases," Yenni says in the ad. "I propose fresh ideas for our future."
Yenni’s campaign says the ads were backed by sources such as the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office as well as two reports, allegedly from the Bureau of Government Research.
But Lagasse argued there was nothing in those sources to substantiate those alleged claims and Yenni’s campaign broke the law that prohibits political candidates from making false or misleading statements about their opponents.
Yenni countered with copies of numerous newspaper stories dating back to 1994 that his lawyers said supported the ad’s claims.
“The goal of these [ads] is to convince people not to vote,” Chervanak said. “If Yenni’s putting out a negative ad about Lagasse, he’s not attempting to mobilize his people, he trying to demobilize voters from thinking about supporting Lagasse. That’s why they are negative. You’re attempting to turn people off. Give them second thoughts and why they should not go out to vote for this candidate.”
This back and forth came to a head the morning of Oct. 16.
The result? A cease fire.
Lagasse has dropped the lawsuit, which was scheduled to go to trial Oct. 16 before Judge June Darensburg, after both candidates agreed to stop circulating ads accusing the other of tax hikes.
The agreement between the two parties also requires Lagasse to stop the circulation of a certain television ad and mailer “that refers to Yenni as the ‘Tax Man’ or any other similar moniker.” Lagasse is also required to stop claims that Yenni raised city sewer fees and tried to increase property taxes.
Lagasse, however, is not required to recall, return or reacquire any of the previously delivered mailers.
Yenni, 39, and Lagasse, 76, are considered the front-runners in the race to succeed Jefferson Parish President John Young, who is running for lieutenant governor.
The other candidates are Robin Daldegan Christiana, Vincent De Salvo and Al Morella.
Yenni is not the only one who has faced lawsuits over these types of negative ads.
“In Jefferson Parish, I’ve seen it in other campaign as well, Chernavak said. If you’re unhappy with what your opponents are saying, it is a way to go on the defensive and say ‘OK, they’re lying.’”
Calls and inquiries to both candidates have not been returned.