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Gray v. Brown

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

August 27, 2019

CHARLES LEE GRAY, ARTHUR LEONARD SEALY, III, AND PAUL EDWARD PEEK, SR. Plaintiff-Appellees
v.
JASON TREVOR BROWN Defendant-Appellant

          Appealed from the Twenty-Sixth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Bossier, Louisiana Trial Court No. 160192 Honorable Ford E. Stinson, Jr., Judge (Pro Tempore)

          HENRY N. BROWN, JR. DANIEL ROBERT KEELE Counsel for Appellant

          H. LYNWOOD LAWRENCE, JR. Counsel for Appellees

          Before WILLIAMS, MOORE, STONE, McCALLUM, and THOMPSON, JJ.

          McCALLUM, J.

         The citizens of this state have determined, as a minimum qualification, that a candidate who seeks to become an elected public servant must first be domiciled among the public he wishes to serve. This domiciliary requirement is where the crux of the case before us resides. Jason Trevor Brown appeals a judgment of the trial court declaring him ineligible to run for the office of Bossier Parish Police Juror District 9. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         FACTS

         On August 8, 2019, Jason Trever Brown ("Mr. Brown") filed a notice of candidacy for the office of Bossier Parish Police Juror District 9 (hereinafter "District 9"). Mr. Brown listed his domicile address as 2606 Village Lane, Bossier City, Louisiana. On August 15, 2019, Charles Lee Gray, Arthur Leonard Sealy, III, and Paul Edward Peek, Sr., filed a petition to disqualify Mr. Brown as a candidate on the grounds that he had not been domiciled in District 9 during the year preceding his qualification.[1] Mr. Brown filed an answer to the petition on August 19, 2019. The matter proceeded to a hearing on August 19, 2019, before Judge Ford E. Stinson, Jr. Seven witnesses testified and "extensive" documentary evidence was introduced at the hearing. After the petitioners presented their case, Mr. Brown moved for a directed verdict in his favor.[2] After finding that the petitioners had made a prima facie showing that Mr. Brown was not domiciled at the Village Lane address, the trial court denied the motion. The trial court ruled that the burden of proof shifted to Mr. Brown to show that he was domiciled in District 9. On August 20, 2019, the trial court declared Mr. Brown ineligible to be a candidate for the District 9 office and this appeal ensued.

         The evidence and testimony presented at the hearing was largely uncontested. The trial court, in a cogent written opinion, chronicled the evidence and testimony in its reasons for judgment:[3]

[T]he Court considers that Defendant is steadfast in his assertion that he has considered the Village Lane address to have always been his domicile since he first moved there in 1980. He attended elementary school, junior high school, and high school in the appropriate zones encompassing the Village Lane address. He is registered to vote in the precinct appropriate for the Village Lane address and has voted there through the years. His driver's license reflects 2606 Village Lane as his address, and, thus, his vehicle registration for several vehicles likewise reflects the Village Lane address. Defendant's marriage license from February of 2016 states that he was a resident of Bossier City (although it does not give a specific address). He occasionally receives mail at the Village Lane address and apparently has some belongings there, as well. Defendant testified that he was elected to a local parish Republican Committee using the Village Lane address and qualified to run for the Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal in March of 2019 using the same address. There is no indication that anyone challenged his domicile in either election.
..... In January of 2002, Defendant and Scott Robert Moody purchased property in Caddo Parish at 858 Prospect Street in Shreveport, Louisiana. The Deed reflects that Defendant and Mr. Moody were domiciled in Caddo Parish and their mailing address was 858 Prospect Street. In August of 2008, Defendant purchased property at 975 Texas Avenue, Shreveport, Caddo Parish, Louisiana, with his mailing address listed at 858 Prospect Street. In February of 2010, Defendant, listed as resident and domiciliary of Caddo Parish, purchased property located at 1003 Texas Avenue, Shreveport, Caddo Parish, Louisiana. In March of 2010, Defendant purchased Mr. Moody's interest in the 858 Prospect Street property, and the deed reflects that Defendant was domiciled in Caddo Parish and his mailing address was 858 Prospect Street. In August of 2011, Mr. Brown was a plaintiff in a lawsuit for damages where he was described as a domiciliary of Shreveport, Caddo Parish, Louisiana. In May of 2012, Mr. Brown was again a plaintiff in a suit for damages where his petition identified him as a resident of Shreveport, Caddo Parish, Louisiana.
In three separate Candidate's Reports (including his own in 2019), he is listed as having made contributions with a listed address of 858 Prospect Street. The utilities at 858 Prospect Street, which are listed in his name, are all admittedly paid by Defendant even though he continues to allow another person to live there rent-free and with no written lease. Defendant admitted that he and his wife have resided at the 858 Prospect Street address as recently as late summer or early fall of 2018. Defendant claimed the 858 Prospect Street property for homestead exemption purposes as recently as 2016. Mr. Brown has served as an assistant district attorney in Calcasieu Parish since approximately 2016 and spends three to five days a week in South Louisiana. During this time, he stays at various hotels in the Lake Charles area. Defendant's wife, Melissa Albritton, testified that it was earlier in the year of 2019 that she considered the Village Lane address to be her home. Defendant testified that his wife moved to the 2606 Village Lane address in March or April of 2019. Defendant's wife resided at his property at 975 Texas Avenue in Shreveport, Caddo Parish, Louisiana, prior to April of 2019, and Defendant often stayed there with her when he was in town. In 2017 and 2018, Defendant and his wife filed joint federal and state income tax returns listing 858 Prospect Street, Shreveport, Louisiana, as their home address. Numerous banking records introduced reflected the 858 Prospect Street address as recently as August of 2019. Defendant's wife served on a Caddo Parish jury in 2018.
The evidence shows that Defendant owns no immovable property in Bossier Parish. Defendant's father owns the home at 2606 Village Lane, Bossier City, the utilities are in his name, and he pays all of the utility bills. There is no written lease between Defendant and his father and Defendant pays no rent. Bossier City utility records show little or no water usage for most of 2018 and 2019 at the Village Lane address. Defendant and his wife have rarely stayed overnight at the Village Lane address. Witness Donna Boltinghouse has lived next door at 2604 Village Lane since May of 2013. She testified that she had never seen Defendant before the court hearing on August 19, 2019.

         We additionally note that Mr. Brown testified that he continuously lived at the Village Lane address until he left for college in 1988. He further testified that although he left the country for a period of time thereafter, he returned to the Village Lane address where he lived for about three years until 2003, when he lost his job. Mr. Brown contended that his father moved out of the Village ...


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