Hearing Delayed In Landry's LGBT-Rights Dispute With Edwards

Gov. John Bel Edwards

BATON ROUGE (AP) — In the ongoing legal dispute between Louisiana's governor and attorney general over the governor's LGBT-rights protection order, even setting the court date to settle the arguments proved to be complicated.

         Judge Todd Hernandez spent nearly two hours behind closed doors with lawyers from both sides Wednesday before they emerged with a new hearing date: Nov. 29.

         Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry wants a court injunction blocking enforcement of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards' order banning discrimination by state government against LGBT people. Meanwhile, he has invoked his role as attorney general to block dozens of contracts containing the anti-discrimination language that state agencies would use to hire outside lawyers.

         Edwards accuses Landry of repeatedly exceeding his authority, and wants the judge to set parameters around the attorney general's power in office.

         The court battle is only the latest clash between Louisiana's top elected officials since they took office in January. Their relationship is so contentious that their lawyers couldn't even agree when they arrived in court what should be handled in Wednesday's hearing.

         The governor's lawyer, Matthew Block, said he was ready to argue both against Landry's claims the governor's order is unconstitutional, and for the governor's claims that Landry has exceeded his constitutional authority and needs to be given limits.

         But Block said Landry's office refused to accept the delivery of a legal document on Monday afternoon — a move Block said was a strategy aimed at delaying arguments on the governor's request for Hernandez to define Landry's role in office.

         "We were ready to go, and we thought it made a lot of sense for everything to be heard today," Block said.

         Landry's lawyer Elizabeth Murrill said refusing to accept the document on Monday was "irrelevant," because it still wouldn't have given the attorney general's office the required time to prepare its response. She described refusal to sign for the paperwork as "a miscommunication."

         Rather than hear the competing legal arguments piecemeal, both sides agreed to scrap Wednesday's hearing and reset it for Nov. 29.

         "It's better to hear everything all at one time, to have one record for it to move up if either party chooses to appeal. It's just judicial efficiency," Murrill said.

         Block said the governor's office is ready for a hearing: "It's really important to get this resolved and move forward."

         Edwards issued the order in April, prohibiting discrimination in government and state contracts based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The order includes an exception for contractors that are religious organizations.

         Landry's office issued an opinion in May saying the order has "no binding legal effect" because it seeks to establish a new protected class of people that doesn't exist in law and that lawmakers have refused to add.

         The governor sued Landry over the attorney general's refusal to approve the legal contracts containing the LGBT-rights language. A judge sided with Landry, suggesting the attorney general has discretion in how his office reviews the legal contracts. The judge wasn't asked about whether the executive order is legal, and that's what Landry filed the court challenge to decide.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte



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