- Associated Press - Saturday, August 16, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A judge has ruled against residents trying to keep the East Baton Rouge Parish school board from shrinking to nine members from 11.

The Advocate reports (http://bit.ly/VuxJ6a) that state District Court Judge Tim Kelly ruled against claims brought by residents, clearing the way for candidates to begin qualifying Wednesday for Nov. 4 elections.

The redistricting plan, adopted July 24 on a 6-5 vote, was challenged on multiple grounds, including claims that board member Craig Freeman was no longer a legal resident of the parish at the time of the vote. Without Freeman, the plan’s author, the vote would have failed on a tie.

The longtime LSU communications professor moving to teach journalism at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, a job he starts Monday.

Kelly said Freeman, who is selling his Baton Rouge home, remains a legal resident of the parish.

“Starting Monday, that may not be true,” Kelly said, “but today it’s true.”

Freeman said he intends to rent a home in Baton Rouge and serve out his term, which ends Dec. 31.

Alfreda Bester, who represented the nine plaintiffs and is general counsel for the Louisiana NAACP, said she will speak with her clients about whether to try again with Kelly to seek a permanent rather than just a preliminary injunction, or whether to appeal to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal.

Bester said Friday that a federal court challenge remains a possibility. She has repeatedly argued the reduction in districts violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act by diluting minority voting strength. That issue was not addressed in the suit heard Friday. The new board that takes office Jan. 1 will have five majority-white districts and four majority-black districts.

Kelly also ruled against claims that the new maps are invalid because the board had previously reapportioned in November 2012 in response to the 2010 U.S. Census, with maps that maintained 11 districts.

The judge also dismissed arguments that new maps were not properly advertised and that the constitutional rights of candidates were violated because the plan was approved the day after the deadline for qualifying by nomination, a move that can save a candidate hundreds of dollars in qualifying fees.

The most prominent supporter of reducing the board’s size the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. Supporters argue that a smaller board will be more efficient and will save money. Opponents argue that a smaller board makes it easier for special interest groups such as the chamber to influence elections.

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Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com

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