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State v. Wilson

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

August 27, 2019

STATE OF LOUISIANA Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
ANTONIO WILSON Defendant-Appellant

          Appealed from the Sixth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Madison, Louisiana Trial Court No. 2019-164 Honorable Laurie R. Brister, Judge.

          JAMES E. PAXTON District Attorney Counsel for Appellee

          ANITA TENNANT MACK Assistant District Attorney P. HEATH HATTAWAY JOSHUA L. CRITSELOUS Counsel for Appellant

          Before MOORE, GARRETT, COX, STEPHENS, and THOMPSON, JJ.

          STEPHENS, J.

         Antonio Wilson appeals a trial court judgment disqualifying his candidacy for mayor of Tallulah, Louisiana. For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         FACTS

         On August 6, 2019, Antonio Wilson filed a Notice of Candidacy to seek the office of mayor of the City of Tallulah, Louisiana, in Madison Parish. Wilson listed a domicile address of 1005 West Askew Street, Tallulah, Louisiana 71282 ("the Askew address").

         On August 8, 2019, Jan Buchanan, also a candidate for mayor, submitted a letter to James E. Paxton, District Attorney of the Sixth Judicial District, Madison Parish, challenging Wilson's qualifications regarding his domicile. Buchanan stated that: Wilson has not lived in Tallulah for a year preceding his qualification; a previous address claimed by Wilson, 4066th Street, is not owned or occupied by Wilson; and, the Askew address is that of "an abandoned daycare center." Buchanan attached photographs of the Askew address allegedly taken on August 6, 2019, which show the door and windows boarded up and overgrown grass at the residence. Finally, Buchanan advised that she passes the Askew address several times a week to work and she has "seen no signs of anyone" at the residence.

         On August 14, 2019, the State of Louisiana, through Paxton in his official capacity as district attorney, and in accordance with La. R.S. 18:491, et seq., filed a petition objecting to the candidacy of Wilson regarding Wilson's failure to satisfy the domicile requirement for qualification to run for mayor. The DA alleged that Wilson did not reside at the Askew address for one year preceding his Notice of Candidacy for the mayoral election.

         The DA cited photographic evidence that as of the week prior to qualification, the house at the Askew address had boards over the windows and was not inhabited. There was no water service; the last water service to the property was in 2014. The DA alleged that witnesses and law enforcement have advised that no one lives at the Askew address. The DA further alleged that the tax assessor's records indicate that Wilson is not the owner of the Askew property.

         A hearing was conducted on August 16, 2019. Appearing on behalf of the State was the Madison Parish assistant district attorney. Wilson appeared pro se and did not testify on his behalf, nor did the state call Wilson as a witness. The following testimony was adduced.

         Buchanan testified that she is a candidate for mayor, has resided in Tallulah for 50 years, and knew Wilson from high school. It was established through her testimony that Buchanan is a registered active voter and that she resides in the municipality. Buchanan confirmed for the court that she made the challenge to Wilson's candidacy based on her belief that Wilson had not resided in Tallulah for the year preceding his qualification. Buchanan testified that at one city council meeting she heard Wilson introduce himself and provide an address of 402 or 406 6th Street.[1] Wilson provided the 6th Street address again at a city council meeting at which Buchanan was not present, but was watching on live feed. On August 6, 2019, upon learning of Wilson's qualifying for the mayoral race, Buchanan went to the Askew address and took pictures with her cell phone. The letter Buchanan wrote to Paxton and two photographs of the Askew address were admitted into evidence. The photographs show the front door and all visible windows covered with plywood and overgrown vegetation around the residence. Buchanan testified that she passes the Askew address three to four times per week and she has seen "no activity, no life" there. She denied ever seeing Wilson at the Askew address or ever noticing any construction or renovations at the property prior to Wilson's qualifying to run for mayor. However, Buchanan further testified that the day after qualifying, the boards were removed from the house, a 911 sign was visible and the grass was cut. Finally, Buchanan testified that in her work as an insurance agent, she travels around town and that she has not seen Wilson in town. Wilson was in Buchanan's office during the spring and told her that he "was in and out from here to Alabama."

         On cross-examination, Buchanan testified she had knowledge that the Askew address was "family property" formerly run as a daycare by "Ms. Naomi" who was Wilson's now deceased aunt. Buchanan denied having any prior knowledge that Wilson intended to move into, or provide the Askew address as his domicile for qualifying. Buchanan agreed that she was not certain that Wilson did not reside "in the city." When questioned about the instance when Wilson was in Buchanan's office, she stated that she had no reason to question Wilson's domicile at that point because he told her he was visiting from Alabama for a city council meeting. It was also brought out through Buchanan's testimony that the purpose for that visit by Wilson (and Wilson's brother) was to introduce to the city council a company that could in some way help with the "water situation" in Tallulah at that time.

         On redirect examination, Buchanan confirmed that her challenge to Wilson's candidacy was based on Wilson's listing his place of domicile as the Askew address and that he has not lived at that address for the year preceding qualification for the mayoral election and, thus, is ineligible to run for the office.

         Glen Dixon, investigator with the district attorney's office, testified next regarding his investigation of Buchanan's challenge to Wilson's qualifications. A certified copy of Wilson's Notice of Candidacy was introduced through this witness, as well as a certified document from the tax assessor showing that the owner of the property at the Askew address is Leo Jordan of Henderson, Nevada. Dixon testified that he was unable to reach Jordan. Dixon testified that he went to the Askew address and knocked on the door. The boards had been removed from the door and windows and, when Dixon's knock was unanswered, he noticed that a neighbor's door was open. Dixon spoke with neighbor, who advised him that nobody had lived in the house "for a good while." Dixon took photographs of the property, which were introduced into evidence. The photographs show that the boards had been removed and the grass had been cut. There was no gas meter at the house. Dixon testified there was an electric line and meter, but he did not check to see if the meter was running, nor did he know or confirm whether there was electric service to the residence. Dixon did, however, confirm with the water department that there was no water service to the property and the last date there was water service to the Askew address was in 2014.

         Dixon further testified he obtained by subpoena certified copies of various documents from the Registrar of Voters pertaining to Wilson. These items were introduced into evidence with no objection and included the following.[2] The Voter Information Report, printed on August 13, 2019, lists the Askew address as Wilson's residence and mailing address, indicates his status as "inactive," and his registration date as October 2, 1992. The printout of the voter detail screen, dated and timed August 13, 2019, at 11:47 a.m., includes a legend at the bottom left corner indicating that Wilson's inactive status was due to "address correction required" and indicating an open event of "Address Confirmation Card." The Address Confirmation Card signed by Wilson is dated July 11, 2019, and lists the Askew address as his "residential address (place where I live and claim a homestead exemption, if any)." Also introduced was a letter from the Jefferson County Commission, Alabama, stating that there was no record of Wilson ever having been registered to vote in Alabama. Next, a letter from the Alabama Probation and Parole Office dated September 5, 2018, addressed to Wilson at 3123 Enclave Lane, Birmingham, Alabama 35068, was introduced. That letter was stamped by the Registrar of Voters on September 18, 2018. The next document was a Louisiana Voter Registration Application filled out by Wilson, signed and dated September 18, 2018. The residence address provided by Wilson was 505 Geneva Ln, Tallulah, Louisiana 71282. Wilson listed his place of last residence as the Enclave Lane, Birmingham, Alabama address. Also on this document, Wilson checked the box indicating that he did not have a Louisiana driver's license or identification card. Wilson indicated that his place of past voter registration was Madison Parish.

         Dixon testified that, prior to obtaining the above information from the Registrar of Voters, his office requested Wilson provide the documents as well. On August 13, 2019, Wilson provided Dixon with two documents: proof of voter registration and a lease on the Askew address. The first document is a voter detail computer screen printout dated and timed August 13, 2019, 12:48 p.m. (an hour after the previously discussed printout that was subsequently obtained by Dixon via subpoena), which indicates Wilson's residence address as the Askew address and his voting status as "active." The second document was a Residential Lease Agreement for the Askew address between Leo Jordan, lessor, and Wilson, lessee, dated May 1, 2018, and expiring on May 1, 2020.

         Dixon further testified that he did an NCIC search on Wilson which revealed that his driver's license was issued by the State of Alabama. Two vehicles were also registered in the name Wilco Homes, Inc., or Antonio Wilson at the Alabama address. The first vehicle was a Tundra 4x4 Crew Max. Registration on the Tundra was to expire on November 30, 2019, and the tags for the vehicle were issued on February 25, 2019. The second vehicle was an F150 Excel Supercab registered to the same name and address. The tags on the F150 were issued on November 29, 2017, and expired in October 2018. Dixon further testified that the search revealed that Wilson did have a Louisiana identification card, but not a driver's license. Dixon had not yet received documentation from the Office of Motor Vehicles; however, the district attorney had a faxed copy of a Louisiana identification card, which was introduced with no objection. The identification card was issued on August 2, 2019, to Antonio Terrell Wilson at the Askew address.

         Regarding Wilco Homes, Inc., Dixon testified that the Alabama Secretary of State's website indicated that Wilson is the registered agent of the company at the Enclave Lane, Alabama address. The business is active and expires on March 22, 2023.

         On cross-examination, Wilson questioned Dixon about the active versus inactive voter detail printouts and Dixon stated that he could not provide an explanation as to the discrepancy. Regarding the photographs Dixon took of the Askew address, Dixon confirmed that there was no gas meter and that he saw, but did not photograph, a line and electric meter. Dixon did not check to see if the electric meter was running. Finally, Dixon stated that he did not investigate if the property was in violation of any ordinances for overgrown vegetation, and he did not check to see if the property taxes were paid.

         On redirect examination, Dixon clarified that he was not the proper person to interpret and explain the discrepancies in the voter detail printouts.

         Michael Washington, the sole civil process server for the Madison Parish Sheriff's Office, testified next. Deputy Washington testified that he has made a lot of services in the area of the Askew address, and he made service at the Askew address when Ms. Naomi was running the daycare there. He agreed that the daycare was "vibrant" when it was operating. Deputy Washington recalled that the daycare was closed and the structure was boarded up around 2014. Deputy Washington further testified that, thereafter, he observed the boarded window, vegetation overgrowth and vehicles with broken out windows parked at the Askew address. When asked to view the photographs provided by Buchanan showing the boarded-up residence, Dep. Washington agreed that he had observed the Askew address in that condition up until "really this month." Deputy Washington testified that he had seen no construction or other activity at the Askew address. He further testified he attempted service of the petition in the instant matter on Wilson at the Askew address the day before trial. Deputy Washington stated the boards had been removed, but he was unable to locate anyone on the premises. Deputy Washington testified he looked through the window in the door and saw there was no furniture in the house except for a "church bench." He agreed the residence was uninhabited.

         On cross-examination, Dep. Washington testified he had been in the house at the Askew address several times before the daycare closed. When questioned about his observation of the church bench, Dep. Washington stated he could see that it was in the second or middle room. Deputy Washington also agreed that as of the day before trial, the grass had been cut at the Askew address.

         Sharon Jackson lives across the street from the Askew address and testified next. Jackson testified she has lived on Askew Street for eight years, and she has a clear view of the Askew address. Jackson described the house as "growed up" and "like just non-existence, like nobody's there." Jackson stated she did not pay enough attention to, or focus on, whether the house was boarded up; however, she stated she never noticed any work or construction being done at the house. Jackson denied knowing Wilson or seeing him on the Askew address property, but did state she has talked with him from his car as he was driving by the Askew address. Jackson agreed the property appeared to be uninhabited.

         The state rested and Wilson called two witnesses.

         Carlos Ford testified Wilson assists him with outreach programs and sees Wilson "quite a few" times a week. Ford stated he has seen Wilson at every city council meeting he has attended.

         On cross-examination, Ford testified there are two city council meetings per month. Ford further testified he had seen Wilson at the Askew address. Ford was aware the house had been boarded up until the previous week, but stated he had seen Wilson "going in through the front. I've seen him come around the back. Now when you say going in and out, I've seen him actually walk around the property. Now, I don't see that area a whole lot, but the time I saw him that's what I witnessed." Ford then clarified he had seen Wilson "come from behind, behind that structure, yeah." When asked if Ford was saying that Wilson lives there, he replied, "I've seen him, yes. Yes, as far as, I've seen [sic] over at Tammy's, his sister." The following exchange then occurred:

DA: So do you know where he lives?
Ford: Tammy.
DA: So you, if he said in his candidacy that his domicile was 1005 West Askew, it's your testimony that that's not true?
Ford: No I wouldn't say that. I wouldn't say that, no.
DA: Are you saying he live [sic] with Tammy or does he ...

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