New Orleans newspaper sues to see who has signed Mayor Cantrell recall petition

PAC behind signature effort calls request for names ‘shameless’
Published: Feb. 6, 2023 at 8:31 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A New Orleans newspaper is suing an organizer of the effort to recall Mayor LaToya Cantrell, demanding to be shown the names of those who have signed the petition.

The lawsuit was filed last Thursday (Feb. 2) on behalf of Matt Sledge, a reporter with Capital City Press LLC, parent company of the New Orleans Advocate, Times-Picayune and website. It targets Eileen Carter, the former Cantrell administration communications aide who is the listed chairperson and custodian of records for the LaToya Cantrell Recall Petition Political Action Committee.

The lawsuit claims that Sledge made four public records requests to Carter between September 2022-January 2023 seeking copies of the signed petitions, but no response was received.

Carter was unavailable for comment Monday, but issued a press release denouncing the lawsuit as a “shameless legal maneuver” that could potentially expose some petition signatories to retaliation by the mayor’s administration.

“We believe that the voters who signed our petition have a right to privacy, the same right they have when casting their ballot in any and all elections,” Carter said in the statement. “The LaToya Cantrell Recall Petition Political Action Committee is prepared to fight this shameless legal maneuver by the Times-Picayune and the New Orleans Advocate.”

The lawsuit asks a judge to order the release of copies of the original signature pages for the petition, including the names, addresses and birth years of those who signed. It also seeks access to the date of their signatures and the ward and precinct where the signers are registered to vote. Only the signatures of actively registered Orleans Parish voters will be accepted when the petitions are submitted to Louisiana’s Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin by Feb. 22.

Rene Sanchez, editor of the New Orleans Advocate, said in a statement, “We have no intention of mass-publishing names on recall petitions. We have stressed that point to recall leaders. The law is very clear that these are public records. We believe it’s in the public interest to know whether public officials are part of the recall movement or not.

“It’s also in the public interest to know where, generally, in the city the recall is strong or not. That’s important now and for the historical record.”

Attorney and Fox 8 political analyst Mike Sherman said the recall leaders likely will lose when they attempt to fight the lawsuit at a Wednesday hearing before Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Nicole Sheppard.

“This is an open-and-shut legal case,” Sherman said. “The law is crystal clear (that) the names on the recall petition are absolutely public record.

“Many people who signed the petition want secrecy. The law doesn’t afford them that right.”

The Louisiana Secretary of State website confirms that once the first signature is obtained on a recall petition against a local elected official, the petition becomes a public record.

“Once the first signature is obtained, the recall petition becomes a public record with the chairman or vice chairman, when acting as the chairman, as custodian,” it says. “After the petition is submitted to the registrar of voters for certification, the chairman or vice chairman, when acting as the chairman, shall no longer be the custodian.”

“The recall organizers are certainly trying to protect the identity of folks, so there wouldn’t be a chilling effect,” Sherman said. “But the truth is the law is crystal clear here: When you sign that recall petition, your name can become public.”

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