Miller wins hearing in St. Landry Parish

Dustin Miller, center, candidate for La. State Senator District 40, arrives at the St. Landry Parish Courthouse Friday afternoon accompanied by his attorney, Pride Doran, left, and Donald Francis. Miller and another candidate, Pamela Burleigh, were challenged because it is alleged the two do not meet the residency requirements. (Photo Credit: Freddie Herpin)

It seemed like it was indeed “Miller Time” at the St. Landry Parish Courthouse Friday afternoon.

Judge James Doherty Jr. ruled that Dustin Miller, candidate for state representative in District 40, meets the residency requirements to run in next month’s election.

Linda Senegal filed a lawsuit against Miller Thursday, alleging that Miller had not lived in District 40 for a full calendar year before qualifying for the election. In her lawsuit, Senegal complained that Miller moved from District 39 to District 40 in March.

Senegal is the mother of Val Senegal, one of the candidates challenging Miller for the House seat.

In his reason for the ruling, Doherty said Miller’s driver’s license, checking account information and voter registration information had the address that defendant had claimed to be his home his whole life on Clark Street in Lawtell, which is within District 40.

“This was a distraction,” Miller said after Doherty’s ruling, surrounded by family and friends outside of the courthouse. “Our main goal is to make sure the voters don’t get distracted. A change never comes easy.”

According Miller’s testimony, his wife, Nichole Gordon Miller, acquired a trailer in Nov. 2010 on Country Ridge Road. The couple married in 2011 and Senegal’s attorney Benjamin Burns asked the candidate if he and his wife lived.

Miller said he stayed there from Monday through Wednesday and Thursday through Sunday he stayed on Clark Street Where his parents live. “I’ve lived there (Clark) my whole life,” the 28-year old told Burns several times throughout the proceedings. Miller added that he has a bedroom and most of his personal belongings are at his parents’ home.

Burns’ called three witnesses to testify against Miller during the three-hour hearing.

He questioned the reason why mail for businesses Miller owns was stamped with the Country Ridge Road address. Miller said that was his wife’s address and she handles all of the mail and paperwork for the businesses.

“When I did personal stuff, I used the Clark St. address,” Miller said during his testimony. “When we did joint stuff, I used Country Ridge Road.”

Miller said he and his wife reside at several different homes throughout a week. Sometimes they don’t see each other.

“I’m a nurse; she’s a nurse,” he said. “We wouldn’t see each other (on the weekends) anyway. Instead of going to Country Ridge, I stayed in Lawtell.”

In Burns’ closing arguments, he stated that he believed Miller did not live at the residence on Clark Street. “Candidates must have a real domicile,” he said. “It is fictitious and used only for the purpose of qualifying in this race.”

Miller’s attorney, Pride Doran, said in his final statements that the plaintiffs failed to show reasonable proof that Miller violated the residency requirements. “There are two elements of domicile,” Doran said. “Residence and intent to remain. Dustin never intended to remain on that land (Country Ridge Road.)”

After Doherty’s ruling, Senegal said to her knowledge, there has only been one similar case in St. Landry Parish where a judge ruled against the challenged candidate.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” she said with a smile. “I felt the voters of District 40 needed to know about the deceit that some people display. That was my main purpose for this.”

Miller said he felt like a huge burden was lifted and now he can move forward.

“I’m just glad the judge was able to rule in our favor,” he said. “Now we can let the voters decide.”

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