A state appeals court has agreed that the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board did not violate state law by dividing three precincts on the nine-member electoral map the board approved of accuracy in May.

The decision does not affect the November 8 election, but it does not end the case either. Plaintiffs can still potentially prevail if they can show that it is possible to draw a nine-member map that does not divide constituencies.

The case now returns to District Judge Tarvald Smith’s state court for a possible trial.

Amid legal uncertainty, state election officials relaunched in early July old school board maps that were approved in 2014 for use in the November 8 elections. The decision of the Court of Appeal leaves all of that in place. Any future decisions regarding school board electoral maps will only affect future elections – the next scheduled school board election will be in the fall of 2026.

Thirty-three candidates are on the Nov. 8 ballot and all nine school board districts are in the running.

In a 23-page decision released Friday, a three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal overturned the bulk of a June 17 ruling by Justice Smith. Smith had declared null and void the nine-member map approved by the school board in May and ordered the implementation of a rival 11-member map that does not divide precincts.

Reached on Monday, attorney Brian Blackwell, who along with legal partner James Bullman is representing the four Baton Rouge plaintiffs in the case, said he was out of town and unable to comment.

Gwynn Shamlin, general counsel for the school board, did not respond to messages Monday seeking comment.

The redistribution process was costly, with a tab for taxpayers of nearly $125,000 at last count and growing.

The trial revolves around a 54-year-old state law this limits the ability of elected officials to divide electoral districts when drawing up their electoral maps. Although it is common to divide precincts in Louisiana, this law prohibits the practice unless the government entity is unable to avoid such divisions. The adopted Plan 22 splits ridings while the Ware/Collins 1-11 Plan does not, which plaintiffs say is evidence that splitting ridings was avoidable.

The three-judge panel – Walter Lanier III, Allison Penzano and Jewel “Duke” Welch – disagreed.

They sided with school board lawyers that when the board approved Plan 22, it made it clear that it wanted to retain nine members. Therefore, the judge concluded that it is inappropriate to compare Plan 22 to any plan, such as the Ware/Collins plan, which changes the number of board members by nine.

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“The mere existence of other plans, providing for a school board whose electoral districts are made up of entire precincts, did not automatically obligate the school board to choose those plans,” according to the decision.

In her June 17 ruling, Smith focused on the school board’s failure to agree on her preferred size before the final vote. He pointed to language in the law that said the school board could only approve an electoral map “after determining the number of members of said board.”

Court of Appeals judges Lanier, Penzano and Welch, however, concluded that the school board “was not required to vote and issue a statement or pass a resolution first determining the number of its members and then to take another vote”.

On the contrary, two other state laws make it clear that school boards only need to pass one resolution to decide how many members they will have and the boundaries of their electoral district, the justices wrote. .

The appeals court ruling means that to successfully challenge Plan 22, plaintiffs will have to show that it is possible to draw a nine-member electoral map that does not divide constituencies. To do so, plaintiffs will have to refute council redistricting expert Mike Hefner’s assertion that it was impossible to do so without violating other redistricting criteria set out in federal law.

All nine-member maps that the school board had considered split constituencies.

One of the plaintiffs, James Finney, however, says he drew such a map.

On June 13, he testified before Justice Smith that in “a few hours on a Friday night” he had drawn a map of nine members that does not divide precincts. Finney, a math professor at ITI Technical College, drew six of the 19 maps reviewed by the school board, including the Ware/Collins 1-11 plan.

Smith, however, would not let Finney’s new map be admitted into evidence because it had not been independently verified for accuracy.

Board member Evelyn Ware-Jackson, who lobbied for the 11-member card to be rejected and strongly criticized her colleagues, urged the board to end the case.

“We can fix this quickly by producing a nine-member plan that doesn’t divide precincts, violate state laws, or violate federal law and does our job,” Ware-Jackson said. “Although the demographer we hired testified that he can’t do it, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.”