DeRidder Councilman At Large Michael D. Harris now faces a lawsuit to declare his office vacant.
Former Mayor Ronald Roberts filed a written complaint to District Attorney James R. Lestage’s office on August 8 claiming that Harris did not meet the necessary requirements dictated by the DeRidder City Charter to hold the office that he was elected to serve.
When the District Attorney’s Office receives a complaint the Lestage is required by law to investigate the claim and to provide an opinion with reasons within 20 days of the complaint. The official written opinion contains the results of Lestage’s investigation into the claim and his action going forward.
The opinion states that the investigation led to the discovery that Harris uses the property at 386 Harmony Trail as his primary domicile. That property falls outside of DeRidder city limits. Harris does own a home at 806 Lake Court Drive in DeRidder, which he filed a Homestead Application naming it as his residence and domicile.
Lestage’s investigation claims that Harris has not changed his residence to that location. The complaint cites the DeRidder City Charter dictating that council members reside and maintain domicile in DeRidder.
In the opinion Lestage writes “The City Charter of the City of DeRidder clearly establishes a continuing obligation on a council member to maintain his domicile in, and actually reside in, the City of DeRidder. Although Mr. Harris has expressed, and no doubt has, a real desire to serve the citizens of DeRidder; he does not meet, and has not met the continuing dual obligations to be domiciled and actually reside within the city. Therefore, it is my opinion, that Michael D. Harris is not qualified to hold the office of DeRidder City Council Member At Large.”
Harris expressed that he feels this continued legal battle is a personal attack on him, and that he won’t take this lying down.
He expressed his belief that this is a personal grudge held by Roberts and that this personal grudge is causing unnecessary financial expense and social division to DeRidder.
“I don’t think that Ron Roberts likes to lose. I think that during the election his candidate lost, and that he couldn’t handle that. To me this is about a personal vendetta. The city is tired of this. We want to move forward, and this keeps dragging us down.” Harris said.
He added that many people have come to him claiming that the constant legal battle that he has gone through since winning the election has made people question if their votes actually matter.
“Some people believe that this is all a means of Roberts making a mass number of people in our city feel as if their vote doesn’t matter, and to stop them from voting in future elections,” Harris said.
Regardless of the circumstances, Harris is determined to fight for his position on the council. He said that he is pursuing “every avenue” to fight the suit.
“I am going to fight this even harder than before. Being a seated councilman I would ask the City Attorney David Lestage why the District Attorney is being brought in on a civil matter?” said Harris.
Harris has previously won a civil trial filed against him by Roberts on behalf of the City of DeRidder.
The trial saw intervention by Secretary of State R. Kyle Ardoin on Harris’ behalf recommending that Harris remain on the council.
Judge Eric Harrington found that the City of DeRidder failed to file a complaint within seven days of the candidate filings in January.
It has been stated by both Harris and Roberts that Roberts was completely aware of Harris’ domicile situation prior to the candidate filings.
Earlier this month, Harris alleged that he had been followed by the Beauregard Parish Sheriff’s Office (BPSO).
Harris alleged that BPSO deputies went to his house late at night and illegally searched his mailbox.
Harris met with Sheriff Ricky Moses who assured him that the officers were their serving legal papers from Vernon Parish to former residents of Harris’ home. After the meeting, Harris claimed that the incident was a misunderstanding, and that he would not be filing charges regarding the search of his mailbox.
Now Harris believes that the incident is connected to Roberts’ personal vendetta against him. Sheriff Ricky Moses has denied the notion that the BPSO has done anything to Harris regarding his lawsuit.
Moses stated the following in response to the incident:
“We had civil papers issued by the 30th Judicial District Court out of Vernon Parish (Docket Number 96411B) to serve defendants at 806 Lake Court Dr. Deputies made numerous attempts to locate someone at that address to either accept service or advise us that defendants are no longer at that address. This had absolutely nothing to do with Mr. Harris and the issues concerning the City Council. Deputies were only attempting to locate the named defendants on the service papers.”
Harris claims that he is speaking with his lawyers about potentially filing charges on the deputies that went through his mailbox.
Harris also claimed that he had “numerous witnesses” that saw the alleged incident take place.
“This entire ordeal has taken a toll on me and my entire family,” Harris said. “I’m going to fight this in every way I can.”
The full written opinion from District Attorney James R. Lestage can be read by clicking here.