By the end of next month, New Iberia City Councilman David Merrill could lose his position on the council.
But, according to a source close to the case, he could still remain in office—even if the judge does not rule in his favor.
If 16th Judicial District Judge Gerard Wattigny sides with the state in their case against Merrill, the councilman could appeal to the state's Third Circuit Court of Appeal and apply for what's called suspense of appeal. It means any judgment against him would be suspended until the court of appeal's ruling.
Last Friday, Judge Wattigny heard the state's case against Merrill. The state alleges that Merrill is holding office illegally because of prior convictions.
Under Louisiana state law, felons must wait 15 years after their conviction to serve in office or otherwise obtain a pardon from the governor. The state alleges that Merrill neither waited nor received a pardon and presented these two pieces of evidence: · A copy of Merrill's court record showing his guilty pleas to two charges of drug possession—one for marijuana and one for cocaine. · His oath of office.
According to Merrill's affirmative defense, filed back in October of last year, the councilman completed the drug court program, his conviction was set aside, dismissed and finally expunged in June 2005.
Other Louisiana public officials, like former St. Landry Parish school board member Qunicy Richard, have also argued an expungement allows them to serve in office without a pardon. But, they have been unsuccessful.