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City Council vs. Mayor's husband: Judge grants TRO

Lawrence and Melinda Mitchell
Posted at 11:52 AM, Jul 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-24 20:34:05-04

A judge has issued a temporary restraining order that forbids the Mayor's husband from going to the city barn and from interacting with five city employees.

The employees he can't contact are the same ones who filed affidavits about past conflicts with Lawrence Mitchell.

In his ruling, the judge referenced the mayor's testimony.

During her testimony, she said that her husband's "bark is worse than his bite." The judge said that spoke to his character.

The judge said maintaining the city's infrastruture is the second-most important function of government, and interfering with that disrupts the city's function.

The judge reminded Mitchell that violation of the TRO would constitution contempt of court.

Lawrence Mitchell, left, and his attorney John Milton of Lafayette

Here's the story from earlier this afternoon:

Court is in recess for lunch and testimony will resume at 1 p.m. with testimony from Mayor Melinda Mitchell.

The city's council voted last week to ask for a restraining order that would prevent Lawrence MItchell from entering any city property and interacting with any city employee except his wife. Mitchell and some council members and city employees have had multiple conflicts since the mayor was sworn in last year.

One of the city council members already has a personal restraining order against Mitchell, who is married to Mayor Melinda Mitchell. Mitchell has been arrested at least twice, accused of violating that restraining order.

Judge Lewis Pitman is considering the council's request, and today even heard testimony this morning from the city's attorney, Alan Durand, who wore a bulletproof vest to a council meeting recently.

After that testimony, the judge denied a motion by the Mayor's husband to remove city attorney Allan Durand from the city council's attempts to have Lawrence Mitchell banned from city property and from interacting with any city employee other than his wife.

We spoke to the mayor as she was leaving the courthouse this morning to ask if she stands by her husband.

"As long as he's doing what's right, I will 100 percent stand behind anybody who's doing what's right," Melinda Mitchell said.

We asked if she feels her husband is causing disruptions in city business.

"I have no comments as far as that. I think he's doing what he thinks is right, and that's why we're here, for the judge to determine from the facts and testimony if he thinks its right," the mayor said.

Mitchell himself gave us a thumbs-up as he left the courthouse:

But Mitchell's attorney, Lafayette lawyer John Milton stepped in when we asked Mitchell how he felt the hearing was going.

"It's obvious what's happening in the city and I guarantee before it's over, the whole truth is going to come out and something's going to give because all these accusations and these strategies - people have a right to free speech and free assembly and you can't just take it away," Milton said. "There's a constitution in this country for a reason and this man is entitled to his constitutional rights."

After the judge denied Milton's motion to remove Durand, a city employee, a former city employee, a city resident and Mitchell testified.

Michael Martin, who has been a city employee for almost four years, testified about a tree he cut down as a public works employee.

Mitchell took photos of him cutting the treet, and claims the tree was on private property. Martin testified the treet was about 15 feet from the road - which would place it in the right-of-way, that the tree was next to a fire hydrant and that he was told the cut the tree by his boss.

Martin is one of the employees who filled out an affidavit that the council is using to support their motion.

Martin said MItchell came to the city barn to complain about the tree, and wanted to fight Martin. He also told Martin he was there to get Martin's boss to curse at him, so he could get the boss fired. Martin said he thought he was friends with Mitchell, and called the mayor to tell her what her husband said.

Mitchell then took the stand. He said he'd worked for the city for about eight years in the past, and has lots of friends working for the city. He says he goes fishing with some of his city friends, and that his godchild works there. He said the council's trying to take away his constitutional rights.

"I saw wrong-doing, I wanted to report it. That's the law," Mitchell said.

In terms of the tree, Mitchell said a private company cut that tree years ago. He said he thinks the tree was outside of the right-of-way. He said Martin and other employees got irate with him when he got to the barn, because they knew what information he had.

Mitchell says he's not acting in any official capacity, and that he would report wrong-doing even if his wife wasn't the mayor. He denied ever threatening any city employee, and went on to say he doesn't carry a gun and has never been convicted of assault.

"I know everybody. I respect everyone as a man or woman," he said. "I'm there for my community, I'm there to serve my community. I didn't do anybody anything. I didn't touch anyone or attack anybody."

Under cross-examination, Mitchell admitted he doesn't know what the right-of-way is near the tree in question.

A local businessman, Mark Brignac, testified that he isn't allowed at the city barn anymore, and claimed that Durand threatened him. He said he also reports wrong-doing when he sees it.

The judge asked what the relevancy is of Brignac's testimony, and Milton answered that "there's a Gestapo-type operation here in city government."

Brignac said he's known Mitchell for some time and described him as a "jolly person."

A former public works supervisor, Charles Rader, also testified. Rader was fired earlier this year after an incident with Martin in which Rader is accused of using a racial slur.

Rader testified that he has known Mitchell since 1977 and they're "like family." He said he's never known Mitchell to be violent, adding that his friend "carries himself in a very jovial way."

Rader said it was common for Mitchell to drop by the barn when he was working there. He also claimed Martin lied about him to get him fired, and now is lying about Mitchell to get him banned.

Before testimony on the motion began, the court handled Milton's motion to exclude Durand.

During Durand's testimony, Milton asked Durand how he went about investigating Mitchell, and Durand said he didn't investigate anything. He said he has knowledge about the situation between Mitchell and Prosper, and drew up the affidavits for some of the employees involved in the case.

"I was swimming in facts," Durand testified.

The city attorney testified about several incidents involving Mitchell that he witnessed.

He said that Mitchell walked into a special meeting a few weeks ago with his hands in his pockets and a look on his face that scared Durand. He said Mitchell was prohited from being at the meeting. When Milton asked Durand about the bulletproof vest, Durand said a statement needed to made because everything is out of hand.

Durand described constant disruption because of Mitchell. He said everyone at city government seems to get complaints about him.

After Mitchell's attorney was done asking questions, Durand made a statement to the court.

"I have no personal animosity for Mr. Mitchell," Durand said. "I would like for this to quiet down. I wish there was another way to handle this. As the city attorney, I have to carry out the wishes of the city council. I have nothing against the Mayor."