Posted on September 3, 2013 at 12:37 PM
Tuesday, Sep 3 at 5:41 PM
Ashley Rodrigue / Eyewitness News
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @ashleyrwwl
BATON ROUGE- The St. Tammany Parish coroner has lost two battles in the war he's waged against a new law stripping him of financial control over his office.
In June, Dr. Peter Galvan filed a lawsuit in Baton Rouge against the state and parish government after House Bill 561 was passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor.
Tuesday was the second time Galvan has sent attorneys into the courthouse in Baton Rouge only to end up defeated. This loss stemmed from Galvan's lawsuit against the state and the parish claiming a new law limiting his power is unconstitutional. The judge not only ruled that the state didn't have to be a defendant. He also said the case didn't belong in Baton Rouge.
"The state seems to think they can just be heard when they want to and not when they're sued," said Galvan's attorney, Phil Wittmann. "So that was a decision the court made today and we'll live with it."
"The decision by Judge Fields, I believe, just validates what I've said all along, that the case needs to be in St. Tammany Parish where all the entities reside," said St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister.
Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office, who represented the state at Tuesday’s hearing, said in a statement, “The Attorney General is satisfied that the judge sided with us on this procedural matter, sending the case back to St. Tammany Parish. We will be actively watching the case and will become active if or when needed.”
Now, a St. Tammany judge will decide whether the law, which gives the parish control over coroner's office finances, property and approval of spending, will stand. The coroner says it shouldn't for several reasons, including that the law changes the purpose of tax money approved by voters in 2004. Galvan's attorney says despite court losses already, he still believes that they have a good chance.
"We've got a level playing field, a great shot at declaring the statute unconstitutional," Wittmann said.
The parish says it's ready to pick up the fight.
"We're now eager to have the constitutionality issue finally resolved so we can move forward and do what we're supposed to do," said Brister.
A decision on whether the two lawsuits will be combined has not been issued, and neither has a hearing date for when the case will pick back up in Covington.
The last visit to the Baton Rouge courthouse by the St. Tammany Coroner's Office was to fight legislative auditor investigators, who were requesting thousands of emails while probing claims of misspending and mismanagement by Galvan. A judge ruled Galvan had to turn over all but 2,000 emails, which the judge would determine whether they are protected. That ruling is still pending.