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|Silence from the bench|
Nineteenth Judicial District Court Judge Curtis Calloway must be a busy man.
Why else would the jurist not give a reason for ruling against a request for Brenda Anderson Armstrong to keep her job as her husband's legislative aide?
The legislator in question is state Rep. Noble Ellington of Winnsboro.
Armstrong and Ellington were married in late 2006.
Before we explore the chain of events to that led to Armstrong and Ellington appearing before Judge Calloway earlier this week, let's reflect upon the history of Ellington's political career and Armstrong's tenure as his aide, particularly from the time Armstrong and Ellington were married.
Armstrong has worked as Ellington's legislative aide since 1988. That was the year Ellington first became a member of the Legislature following a hard-fought race for the District 20 seat in the House of Representatives. Ellington narrowly defeated Rod Elrod in that House race some 21 years ago.
After serving two terms in the House, Ellington ran for and won the District 32 seat in the state Senate. Ellington took his seat in the Senate in 1996, which was made possible when then-Sen. Steve. D. Thompson opted not to seek re-election. Thompson served two terms in the Senate after unseating Sen. Bill Atkins in the 1987 election cycle.
Thanks to that silly law called term limits, Ellington was forced to give up his Senate seat after serving three terms, or 12 years.
That prompted Ellington to run for his old House seat in the 2007 elections. Ellington prevailed in a surprisingly close race against Cleve Womack of Catahoula Parish.
Yet, when Armstrong and Ellington were married in late 2006, Armstrong was allowed to keep her job as Ellington's aide in spite of state ethics rules and regulations that prohibit elected officials from directly employing a family member.
Remember, Ellington was serving in the Senate then.
The decision to allow Armstrong to continue working for Ellington was based on a prior ruling rendered by the state Board of Ethics. That particular ruling stemmed from a case involving then-Sen. Thompson.
Thompson, like Ellington, married his aide.
At that time, or when Thompson married his aide, the Board of Ethics said it was okay for Thompson's wife to work for him since she had worked for the senator prior to their marriage.
So, according to a prior Board of Ethics ruling, it was okay for Armstrong to maintain her job as Ellington's aide even after they tied the knot.
All of that changed, though, when Ellington was elected to his old House seat in last fall's elections.
As Ellington prepared to take his seat in the House in January, he sought and obtained a state Attorney General's opinion. The AG opinion said Armstrong was clear to work as Ellington's aide because she was employed by the Legislature for more than a year before her marriage to Ellington.
Shortly thereafter, however, the Board of Ethics voted 3-2 against Armstrong being allowed to keep her job as Ellington's aide. At that point, Alfred "Butch" Speer, who serves as clerk of the House of Representatives, informed Ellington that Armstrong couldn't serve as his aide when he took his seat in the House.
Needless to say, Armstrong and Ellington didn't agree with the ruling.
And off to court they went.
Nineteenth Judicial District Court, to be exact, since it is the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge that hears cases involving legislative matters.
In a court appearance earlier this year, Armstrong and Ellington secured a temporary injunction. The injunction allowed Armstrong to continue working as Ellington's aide until the issue could be sorted out by the court.
That led to Armstrong and Ellington's appearance before Judge Calloway on Monday.
The state contended, or the House of Representatives contended, that a break in service occurred when Ellington moved from the Senate to the House. Thus, according to the state, Ellington was required to rehire Armstrong as his aide, which would not be allowed under law. Something to do with nepotism laws was discussed.
Armstrong and Ellington's attorney, Rob Marionneaux Jr., who also is a state senator, produced witnesses who countered the state's argument.
One witness, Noel Hunt, who works as the House Human Resources Director, said he had never heard of a legislative aide losing their pay grade or healthcare or retirement benefits when an aide moved between the House and Senate.
Apparently, Judge Calloway wasn't impressed, or he wasn't swayed by Armstrong and Ellington's argument.
At least that's what we can discern since Judge Calloway didn't give a reason for ruling against Armstrong and Ellington's request that Armstrong be allowed to keep her job.
At the very least, we can chalk up this matter as another example of a jurist issuing a ruling that makes no sense whatsoever.
Or the jurist deliberately opened the door—a mile wide—for Armstrong and Ellington to appeal.