Federal Judge Sides with The Descendants Project Co-Founder Dr. Joy Banner in Free Speech Case by Allowing Case to Progress

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The Lawsuit Followed Threats Made Against Banner at a Parish Council Meeting by the Parish Council Chair

WALLACE, La, June 07, 2024 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — A federal judge has sided with The Descendants Project co-founder Dr. Joy Banner in her First Amendment lawsuit against St. John the Baptist Parish Council Chair Michael Wright for making threats against Banner during a Parish Council meeting, ruling that the case can move forward.

Banner was compelled to file the lawsuit alleging her right to free speech was violated after Wright threatened to have Banner prosecuted for speaking out during a Nov. 28 meeting. At the time she was silenced, Banner was attempting to address the impropriety of Parish President Jaclyn Hotard using taxpayer money for a private attorney to defend her for unethical behavior in support of the proposed Greenfield grain terminal.

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“The voices of residents who would be directly impacted by the massive Greenfield terminal literally in our backyards should be heard by our elected officials,” Banner said. “We are thankful that the judge recognized the merits of my case and will allow it to move forward.”

In siding with Banner, Nannette Jolivette Brown, chief judge of the Eastern District of Louisiana, ruled on Wednesday that Banner had presented enough evidence to support the suit moving forward and denied a claim by Wright that the suit should be dismissed.

Hotard, a defendant in the case, prevented Banner from speaking during the meeting by interrupting her. Hotard’s family stands to gain financially from the proposed terminal by Greenfield Louisiana LLC. The Descendants Project opposes the terminal because it would generate pollution, damage landmarks tied to slavery, and displace Black landowners. The Descendants Project has taken separate legal action to stop the development of the terminal.

During the council meeting, Wright threatened to have Banner prosecuted under a state law that was ruled unconstitutional nearly a decade ago. Video of the incident is available online at the 4:45 mark. 

Hotard has supported efforts to rezone Parish land from residential to industrial, which would allow the Greenfield terminal to be built. Hotard’s mother-in-law, Darla Gaudet, the officer and manager of Gaudet Holdings LLC, owns property within and immediately adjacent to the land in question and serves to benefit financially if that land is rezoned for industrial use.

The Descendants Project also filed a State Board of Ethics complaint against Hotard, who, in turn, sought to use public funds to pay for her legal defense ahead of a State Board of Ethics hearing.

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The Descendants Project was formed by sisters Dr. Joy and Jo Banner of Wallace, La., to preserve and protect the health, land and lives of the Black descendant community in Louisiana’s River Parishes. It is a 501c3 nonprofit organization established to support descendant communities working together to dismantle the legacies of slavery and to achieve a healed and liberated future.

CONTACT: Kimberly Hefling The Descendants Project [email protected] 

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