The judge’s remarks capped a day and a half of testimony in a civil lawsuit by Carroll Stelly, incumbent police chief, to disqualify Melancon, based on the accusation that Melancon, a former police chief, had failed to abide by the law which requires a police chief candidate “shall have been domiciled for at least the immediate preceding year in the municipality.”
While Melancon contended he resided at 611 E. Jeff Davis, in the former Pat’s Domino Hall, Stelly’s lawsuit argued he spent a portion of the previous year as a resident at 174 Warrant Road. Stelly’s suit also charged Melancon changed his voter registration from Warrant Road and E. Jeff Davis within 60 days of filing for the Oct. 2 election.
With his only other opponent, David Sykes, Sr., signing a withdrawal notice delivered to the Louisiana Secretary of State last Thursday, Stelly’s return to the office as Rayne’s police chief was confirmed.
Following the judge’s ruling in his favor, Chief Stelly issued a one-sentence statement to explain his decision to challenge Melancon’s qualifications: “I strongly feel a person who runs for office, like the police chief, should also be held accountable and follow all the laws.”
In making his decision, Judge Clause tied what he described as “indicators” to the issue of domicile.
While noting the former domino hall “doesn’t look like a residence,” Judge Clause also referred to occupational licenses issued and in force in 2009, a period of time when the utility expenses at the Jeff Davis location were inactive, a change of voter registration not made until May 2010, the fact that Melancon filed for homestead exemption on the Warrant Street location and a change of mailing address to Warrant Road from 613 E. Jeff Davis on Sept. 18, 2008 and a second address change to 611 E. Jeff Davis on April 21, 2010.
At one point during closing arguments by Stelly’s attorney Walter Clawson of Shreveport, in which he described the cinder block, one room building that still retained the signs of Pat’s Domino Hall, Judge Clause interjected, “Is this the duck test... if it looks and walks like a duck, it’s a duck.”
The court decision followed a string of witnesses for Stelly, the plaintiff, and defendant Melancon.
Melanins’s attorney, Nicholas Bellard, focused the testimony of his witnesses on Melancon’s contention that the Warrant Road trailer was “a camp” where he hosted cook-ups and card games every Monday and Thursday evening and where he slept only on those two nights.
Witnesses for Melancon also testified as to the furnishings, including a queen size bed, in the former domino hall. Several of Melancon renters also told the court they made their monthly rent payments at the Jeff Davis location.
Plaintiff attorney Clawson, assisted by Milo Nickel, Jr. of Lake Charles, called witnesses to testify when Melancon changed his homestead exemption, his mailing address, his utility billing address and his voter registration to Warrant Road and when he then changed those documents to reflect he was residing on Jeff Davis.
Among the witnesses called were Mayor Jim Petitjean, Registrar of Voters Billie J. Meyer and one of her staff, Chief Deputy Clerk of Court Blane Faulk, and Zachary Hoffpauir, a U.S. Postal delivery supervisor at the Rayne Post Office, a brother-in-law, Phil Peltier, and Terry Broussard.
Rayne detective Richard Gary and a sheriff’s deputy were also called to testify on their efforts to serve legal notices to Melancon at both locations.
The Postal Service supervisor submitted forms which showed Melancon changed his mailing address from E. Jeff Davis to 174 Warrant Road on Sept. 18, 2008, and switched it back to the Jeff Davis location on April 21, 2010.
Defendant Melancon was the first witness called and questioned by both his attorney and Stelly’s attorney.
Throughout his testimony, Melancon maintained he was living at 611 E. Jeff Davis exclusively and never told anyone he resided, slept or ate at 174 Warrant Road other than during the two, weekly gatherings.
Under cross-examination by Clawson in which he argued Melancon lived a portion of 2009 at the Warrant Road address, Melancon answered, “No body [lived there], sir; it’s a camp.”
At one point, Clawson said to Melancon, “You simply made a mistake about changing your domicile,” assuming the legal, one-year residence requirement applied to the October election date instead of the July qualifying date, noting he changed his homestead exemption status in September 2009 rather than in July 2009.
Clawson also pointed out the homestead exemption, under the Louisiana Constitution, should only be sought “where one resides in a bona fide home.”
According to the legal records, Melancon transferred the homestead exemption to between the two properties.
In his ruling, Judge Clause zeroed in on the changing voter registrations and mailing addresses, and shifting homestead exemption status.
Regarding the homestead exemption, the district judge expressed his concern about being “callous and careless with the truth.” He commented, “I have a problem with that.”
Because the judgment was against Melancon, he will be responsible for all attorney and court costs.