Metairie attorney challenges polling site distance requirement for petition solicitors

By Kate Jacobson | Nov 8, 2016

METAIRIE, La. – A Metairie attorney who is heading the recall efforts of a parish president is working toward another fight: Allowing petition solicitors to be within 100 feet of polling places.

Robby Evans III filed a lawsuit Nov. 3 asking a Jefferson Parish judge to allow recall workers to stand 100 feet from polling places, despite a state law requiring a 600-foot distance. Evans says a 1995 Louisiana Supreme Court ruling determined the 600 feet requirement was unconstitutional but is still being enforced thanks to a constitutional amendment loophole.

Now Evans wants a judge to determine once and for all that 100 feet is legally acceptable for solicitors to stand.

“The court already ruled that 600 feet is too far and unconstitutional,” Evans told The Louisiana Record. “But the legislation has ignored it.”

Evans is spearheading the effort to recall Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni. The president is facing allegations he was sexting with a high school student in 2015 when the boy was 17. At the time Yenni was mayor of Kenner and campaigning for his current position.

Evans said he was disgusted by the allegations and, as a father of four boys, believed he needed to do something to remove Yenni from office. He started a recall petition and in the process discovered his volunteers were not allowed within 600 feet of a polling place.

In 1995 the state Supreme Court determined the 600-feet rule was “unconstitutionally overbroad.” In the following years, state legislators amended the rule but did not issue a new numerical distance determining how far away workers could stand. Evans said this made the new law constitutional but not substantive.

“The recall effort made me realize the need to change the statute,” Evans said. “I’m a lawyer and I go to court to make sure people have justice. When I see there’s a law that they know is unconstitutional and they keep it on the books, I’m going to make sure in the future people have access and freedom for their voices to be heard.”

He said he’s filed two lawsuits. The first in Jefferson Parish directly relating to the recall effort and the polling place issue. That case had an injunction hearing Monday, where Evans hopes a judge will find the law in Jefferson Parish is unconstitutional.

Evans also filed a lawsuit in state court asking a judge to rule that the current state law is unconstitutional.

“We have a law that’s been ruled unconstitutional but stayed on the books for the last 10 years, and I need to get it declared unconstitutional,” he said. “In the bigger picture, for the future – that’s really why I’m doing it.”

He said despite the limits the recall effort has been going strong. In four weeks of getting signatures, Evans said he’s collected half of the 90,000 signatures required. Signatures need to be collected by mid-April to force a referendum removing Yenni as president.

 “I felt like I had a burden, a moral obligation to do something,” he said. “Voters want to come and sign, they’re going to the polls asking ‘Where do I sign the recall?’ They believe they should have access to the petition to recall Mike Yenni.”

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