Plaintiffs in an ongoing lawsuit alleging Terrebonne’s judicial elections are unconstitutional are asking a federal court to order a special election before 2020 as a possible way remedy to the issue.

Terrebonne’s NAACP chapter sued the state in federal court in 2014, alleging Terrebonne's at-large judge districts dilute minority voting strength. Following an eight-day trial in Baton Rouge that ended April 28, 2017, U.S. District Judge James Brady ruled the districts unconstitutional.

Before he died in December following a brief illness, Brady gave the Legislature the opportunity to come up with a remedy. The case is now overseen by U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick of Baton Rouge.

The chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, Rep. Randal Gaines, D-LaPlace, filed a bill that would have created five subdistricts, each with its own judge elected by the voters of that district. One of those districts would have a majority black voter population.

When that bill died in a committee in April, it marked the seventh time in over 20 years the Legislature rejected a bill seeking to change the electoral method in Terrebonne’s judicial system.

The plaintiffs then filed a motion to hold a conference with Dick to determine the next step. Dick granted the request for that meeting to be held at 2:30 p.m. Aug. 2 in her chambers.

In a brief filed this week, the plaintiffs also requested a court-ordered redistricting plan to be put into place.

“Plaintiffs seek a court-ordered remedial redistricting plan for electing members to the 32nd Judicial District Court and implementation of such a plan in a special election to be held before the next regularly scheduled election for the 32nd JDC in 2020,” NAACP attorneys wrote.

Terrebonne NAACP President Jerome Boykin said he is optimistic the federal courts will put an end to his 20-year fight to establish voting equality in the parish.

“We’re going to continue to fight to create a minority district for Terrebonne because it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

The defendants in the case, Gov. John Bel Edwards and Attorney General Jeff Landry, have indicated they plan to appeal the federal court’s ruling to the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Holding a special election earlier than 2020 wouldn’t be possible due to time constraints, said Virginia-based attorney Jason Torchinsky, who represents Landry. In papers filed June 28, he said that even if the judge granted the plaintiffs' latest request,  there is not enough time for court hearings and getting the election into place before 2020.

A special election is just one of several possible suggestions, said Leah Aden of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, who represents the group's local chaprter in the case.

"The defendants are still fixated on issues that have already been addressed," Aden said. "We’re beyond that. We’re at the point of trying to fix the problems that have been identified. What are the solutions to the structure that needs to be changed?" 

Terrebonne Parish President Gordy Dove, an ardent opponent of a minority judicial district, agreed with Torchinsky’s sentiments on Friday.

“The NAACP Legal Defense is trying every move it can to avoid the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is the process,” Dove said. “They’re trying to create five subdistricts, not just one minority subdistrict. That’s where they’re trying to fool everyone. It’s totally wrong and I’m against it 100 percent. This is a New York firm trying to tell the people of Terrebonne Parish how their judicial system should work, and it doesn’t work like that.”

-- Staff Writer Dan Copp can be reached at 857-2202 or at dan.copp@houmatoday.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanVCopp.