(BATON ROUGE, La) Baton Rouge Police Union President, Corporal Brandon O’Neal, filed lawsuits against two members of the Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board on Friday, Jan. 27th. Corporeal O’Neal’s actions ask the Court to force Brandon O Williams and Sharon Lewis respectively, to forfeit their seats.
Corporal O’Neal filed the lawsuit as a private person on behalf of the Baton Rouge Union of Police that he represents, according to his attorney, Cliff Ivey.
Unfiltered with Kiran has previously reported the union concerns with Williams’ tenure on the Board, citing to his criminal history and questioning his ability to sit as a neutral juror when Officers bring discipline appeals before the Board. Williams rebuked the calls for his resignation, but now, the Union is seeking to force his removal.
According to Louisiana Revised Statute Title 33 section 2476 subsection (2)(c)(i), no person can serve on the Civil Service Board if they hold a “public office or position of public employment”.
The prohibition acts to ensure that Board members do not possess any conflicts of interest while serving in their positions. According to the suits filed by Corporeal O’Neal, both Brandon Williams and Sharon Lewis are ineligible to serve because of this prohibition in Louisiana law.
Corporal O’Neal’s suit against Williams claims that he is also a Board member of the Louisiana Housing Corporation, which is considered a violation of the prohibition that forbids holding a public office.
Corporal O’Neal further alleges, at the time of his appointment to the Civil Service Board, Williams was a member of the East Baton Rouge Parish Board of Appeals, which is also a public office. Despite Williams resigning from his position on the Board of Appeals last year, according to Attorney Cliff Ivey, that is irrelevant.
“The moment Mr. Williams took his position with the Civil Service Board in 2020, the law required that he immediately forfeit because he was a member of the Board of Appeals. But it gets even more problematic for Mr. Williams because while he served on the Civil Service Board, he took a second position of public office on the La. Housing Corporation Board in 2022. Both board positions disqualify him from serving on the Civil Service Board, and we are asking the Court to force him to do what the law says, which is forfeit his Civil Service Board seat,” said Ivey.
Ivey claims Sharon Lewis’ appointment to the Civil Service Board in 2019 was problematic from the start. At the time, Lewis was an employee at the LSU Athletic Department and was never eligible to serve because of her public employment.
“This should have been caught at that time, and Ms. Lewis never should have been considered, much less seated,” said Ivey.
Lewis termed out of her position in July 2022. However, she has continued to serve because no eligible person has been nominated to replace her. Several people have been considered as her replacement, but no candidate has met the requirements.
Ivey says this likely should never have happened. Baton Rouge’s city ordinance states the Metro Council administrator must verify the eligibility of each member to any board before the candidate is appointed by the council. That administrator is also required to re-certify each member on an annual basis. This requirement is to ensure no one has violated any rule that changes their ability to continue their service.
“At this point, we don’t know if those reviews occurred. What we do believe is that these two members aren’t eligible to be in their positions and they need to forfeit those seats immediately,” said Ivey.
This could mean if the two are deemed ineligible, cases that have gone before the civil service board while they were in their seats, could now be null and void.
“Conceivably, challenges may be made to the dozens and dozens of decisions these two Board members have been part of for the last three or more years. Where that takes us at this point is anyone’s guess, but it could get messy and very expensive for the taxpayers if all of those decisions have to be rehashed.”
UWK reached out to Williams. He said that there will be more coming out about this that will be “pretty explosive” and otherwise stated he has “no comment.” UWK attempted to contact Lewis for her comment on the lawsuit.
The hearings related to these suits will be scheduled in the near future. UWK will update the status of these cases as we learn about them.