N. Iberville High trial moved to civic center

DEIDRE CRUSE, Governmental Reporter

District Judge Robin Free ordered Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. to prepare the Carl F. Grant Civic Center for use in the upcoming trial of Overton versus Cancienne, the suit aimed at stopping the closure of North Iberville High School.

Ourso said he received the order last Wednesday. In it, he said, Free cited the enormous number of participants expected at the September 21-22 trial and the need to ensure their safety.

Eighteenth Judicial District Court judges traditionally hold trials at the Iberville, Pointe Coupee or West Baton Rouge courthouses.

The plaintiffs object to the change of venue because of safety concerns, Michael Fontham, attorney for Superintendent P. Edward Cancienne Jr. and the Iberville Parish School Board, told the POST/SOUTH last week.

Fontham cited “incidents” at two meetings before the School Board approved Cancienne's recommendation to close the North End's only high school and at the April board meeting where the 8-7 vote took place.

“On each of those occasions, people got angry and said some things and kind of physically impeded some of the board members and employees, so it is a very serious concern,” the attorney said.

He said he planned to write a letter to the judge voicing the objection.

“The Courthouse is pretty secure, with weapons detectors and limited access,” he said. “There is plenty of room for people to observe, but it's not like a sports event or something, so we have concerns.”

Maringouin Mayor John F. Overton and other parents of school-age children filed suit to stop the board from closing the high school and busing seventh- to 12th-graders to Plaquemine High School starting with the opening of school in August.

Judge Free's clerk, Laurie White, had looked for a venue in North Iberville, but had not found one suitable for the trial.

Ourso said Mike Markins, executive director of the Iberville Parks & Recreation District that operates the civic center, said the facility was available on the trial dates.

The parish president said he would ask his staff to make the civic center as near as possible, into a courtroom.

Judge Free scheduled the trial to start at 1 p.m. Monday, September 21.