For years, candidates for public office who no longer lived in the districts they sought to represent dodged residency or domiciliary requirements by effectively claiming they lived "with Mom'n'em" -- that is, at some long-established (but long abandoned, by the candidate) family abode within the borders of the district. Judges traditionally used more hi-falutin' language to bless the deception, but they may as well have just gone ahead and called it "The Mom'n'em Rule."
The rule was simple: If you don't live in a particular district, you can still run for office from that district as long as you might have lived there at one time and your mom -- or some other close relative -- still lives there. For at least 40 years, The Mom'n'em Rule was pretty much the law in Louisiana.
Until Cedric Richmond came along.
A state representative from eastern New Orleans, Richmond qualified last month to run in a special election for the District D seat on the New Orleans City Council. In doing so, he tested even the elastic limits of The Mom'n'em Rule -- so much so that the Louisiana Supreme Court last week finally found an excuse to blast the rule to hell. Well, actually, that may be overstating it. The court declared Richmond ineligible to run. We'll have to wait until the High Court issues its formal opinion to determine the fate of The Mom'n'em Rule.
Meanwhile, we at least know that you cannot totally ignore the City Charter's requirement that candidates for district seats on the City Council be domiciled in their respective districts for two years. Richmond claimed he has lived that long with his mom in the family digs on Lomond Road, in District D. However, every scrap of paper signed by Richmond for the past eight years or more indicates that he actually has lived at a home he owns with his brother on Eastview Drive, in District E. Richmond even used that address to qualify for the District E seat on the council in 1998 -- although he now says that residence was always intended as "an investment."
Moreover, Richmond's driver's license, his voter registration, his auto registration, his annual homestead exemption (which is pegged to "domicile" and given under oath) and even his sworn "notice of candidacy" affidavits for his House seat all list Eastview Drive as his domicile -- and he didn't give up his homestead exemption there until December, a scant three months ago.
Yet, none of that stopped him from taking the stand in court and saying -- under oath -- that his real domicile since January 2003 was at his mama's house on Lomond Road.
Let's see, that means he fraudulently got at least two years' worth of homestead exemptions on Eastview Drive, and he lied under oath on his notice of candidacy when running for re-election as state representative.
That's quite an admission.
I wonder if DA Eddie Jordan is paying attention to any of this, because Richmond clearly has lied under oath somewhere. Oh, silly me. Jordan is one of Richmond's political supporters. Maybe U.S. Attorney Jim Letten's curiosity will be piqued by the fact that most people mail in their homestead exemption application. We'll see.
Meanwhile, Richmond, an attorney, struck a defiant pose outside the Supreme Court. Noting that none of the six justices who unanimously ruled against him actually live in New Orleans, he urged his supporters to vote for him anyway -- knowing full well that those ballots won't be counted. He said he wants voters to "send those judges a message," and he promised to seek the same council seat during regular citywide elections next February.
Richmond, for political as well as professional reasons, might want to reconsider his petulance. As an officer of the court, he has a legal duty to treat judges with some deference. As a politician, he's just as likely to face a challenge to his qualifications in December as he did last month -- based on the same evidence.
Having sworn to city assessors and tax collectors that he was domiciled on Eastview Drive in the year 2004, he might have a hard time proving he lived with his mama since December 2003. Unless, of course, the Supreme Court's forthcoming opinion breathes new life into The Mom'n'em Rule.