Appeals Court sends North Iberville School trial back to Courthouse

Staff reports

"Come see justice prevail," she said.

Hasten said the group is encouraging school supporters not to "get violent. Be obedient and humble, like they did last time."Attorneys representing the Iberville Parish School System have filed an affidavit and appeal to the Louisiana Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge seeking to have the upcoming trial, scheduled to begin  Monday (Sept. 21) moved from the Carl F. Grant Civic Center in Plaquemine to an appropriate venue, the 18th Judicial Court in Plaquemine.

The appeal request asked the court to stay District Judge Robin Free’s recent ruling to deny the school system’s earlier request to conduct the trial in the District Courthouse in Plaquemine and to reverse Judge Free’s decision to hold the trial in the parish civic center. The writ cites safety and due process for the defendants.

            The Supervisory Writ filed on Thursday asked for an expedited consideration and stay of the trial court proceedings scheduled to begin Monday.

            The affidavit was filed around 3 p.m. on Thursday (Sept. 17), with the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal, at the request of Iberville School Superintendent P. Edward Cancienne, Jr. and School Board Members who argue three reasons for intervention by the appeal court. “There is no evidence that the courthouse in Plaquemine is inadequate for the trial; the larger, more volatile crowd may threaten the safety of the defendants, their counsel and their witnesses, depriving the defendants of due process and that due process generally requires the dignity and solemnity of a courtroom,” explained Attorney Michael Fontham.

He added the Supervisory Writ seeks the protection of the court: “To ensure the safety of the defendants and their witnesses, and to ensure that the defendants are afforded due process, and asks that the trial be conducted in the Plaquemine courthouse rather than the Civic Center. This court should, therefore, transfer the trial location back to the courthouse.” 

            On April 21, the Iberville Parish School Board voted to transfer grades 7-12 at North Iberville High School to Plaquemine High School. The plaintiffs, John F. Overton, Ginger Faye Smith and Burnell Hill, Jr., filed a petition for injunctive relief seeking to force the school board to transfer the students back to North Iberville High School. The plaintiffs claim that Louisiana’s Public Meetings Law was violated. They also amended their suit to request that the school system reopen the school and spend money to improve the school. 

            The school board is represented by attorneys Michael Fontham and John Mark Fezio with the law firm of Stone Pigman Walther Wittmann, LLC of New Orleans.