Judge rules Wicker can run for mayor

Judge rules Wicker can run for mayor
Tara Wicker (Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A district court judge has ruled that East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council member, Tara Wicker, has met all the qualifications to run for mayor.

“To say the least, the last few days have been very interesting. I knew that my candidacy for mayor-president would draw a great deal of attention, but my thought process was geared toward positive attention as that our city is hurting and in need of healing. A challenge to my candidacy never crossed my mind. I have been overwhelmed with support and well wishes, of which I am truly humbled. I pride myself on following the rules and telling the truth,” Wicker said in a statement released Tuesday evening.

Click here to read the full statement.

Her candidacy was challenged in a lawsuit filed the last week of July.

At issue was whether Wicker had either filed all necessary Louisiana state income tax forms for the years 2015 to 2020 when she qualified to run for mayor on July 22, 2020.

Judge Tim Kelley said Tuesday afternoon (Aug. 4) that he found Wicker’s testimony to be credible and he believes she did in fact file her returns for the years in question. In the lawsuit filed, three East Baton Rouge residents claimed their public records indicate Wicker did not file the necessary tax documents for the years 2016 or 2018, despite Wicker claiming on her qualification paperwork that she had.

More: Lawsuit seeks to block Wicker from running for mayor

Candidates running for mayor are required to certify during qualification that they have filed proper tax returns or extensions for the previous five years.

”All of my taxes were filed, yes, sir,” Wicker testified during Tuesday’s court hearing on the matter.

Wicker says when she qualified to run for mayor on July 22, she had “no reason” to think any of her taxes had not been filed for the prior five years. “I know unequivocally that I filed my taxes,” she said.

Wicker testified that she personally put her 2016 tax return in the mail. She says her accountant filed the 2018 return.

The plaintiffs who filed suit claimed public records they received from the Louisiana Department of Revenue (LDR) indicate Wicker had not filed Louisiana state income taxes for 2016 or 2018 and had not filed for a tax extension for either year.

Vanessa LaFleur, custodian of records for LDR, testified Tuesday that she was the person who responded to that records request. LaFleur testified that her office could not locate any tax filings for Wicker for 2016 or 2018.

Under cross-examination by Wicker’s attorney, Jeffrey Coreil, LaFleur acknowledged her husband works on the reelection campaign for current EBR Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome.

LaFleur told the court her husband’s position in the Broome campaign has no effect on her position with the LDR or how she responds to public records requests.

Coreil also stated in court that LaFleur Industries, llc, owned by LaFleur’s husband, has allegedly received “work and grants” from the Broome administration. Vanessa LeFleur, who confirmed she’s a registered agent for the company, says she was not aware of the day-to-day operations of her husband’s company.

LaFleur testified that, as LDR custodian of records, she does not personally do the research for items requested. Instead, she says other staff members search for tax records and report their findings back to her so she can respond to the request.

Coreil asked LaFleur if LDR has ever made a mistake in responding to a public records request.

“Not under my watch,” LaFleur responded.

Wicker testified Tuesday that she went to LDR as soon as she found out about the challenge to her candidacy to ask about the tax filings. She says the LDR employee she spoke with told her it was not uncommon for LDR to misplace tax returns. She says the LDR employee told her their system was “broken.”

The court hearing was held online, with participants joining using Zoom due to heightened coronavirus restrictions at the 19th Judicial District Court.

One of the three people who filed the lawsuit, Sonny Cranch, once worked with the failed campaign to elect Darryl Gissel for EBR mayor-president in 2016. Gissel now serves as Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s chief administrative officer.

Cranch, who smoked a cigar during part of Tuesday’s online court hearing, told WAFB during the last week of July he did not have any discussions with Gissel about the lawsuit prior to it being filed.

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