Kira Orange Jones can run again for her seat on the state’s education board, an Orleans Parish Civil District Court judge affirmed Tuesday when he denied a request challenging her eligibility.
The case centered around whether Jones — a regional field director at Teach for America — had filed her 2015 and 2017 state tax returns before qualifying for office, which is a requirement to run for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Chris Bruno found she had.
“The long and short of it is this language is gotcha language,” Bruno said in his ruling. “Sometimes it gets you, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Jones mailed her state tax returns for those years on Aug. 5, the day before she qualified to run for reelection, certifying that she had either filed her taxes for the past five years or had filed for extensions. Bruno’s ruling hinged on state administrative code which defines taxes as having been filed according to the date they were postmarked.
The hour-long hearing did reveal a hectic few hours leading up to Jones’ qualifying, including clearing fines with the state Board of Ethics and driving through the rain to enter the race at the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office.
Linnell Steib, a resident of Jones’ district who also has grandchildren in the public school system, said she filed the suit after learning Jones did not. She said she was informed of the issue by former City Councilman James Gray and defense attorney and political consultant Ike Spears.
“I was aware of the claim and the lawsuit and I talked to Ms. Steib about the fact she was asked to be a named plaintiff,” Gray said.
The suit centered around a letter produced by the Louisiana Department of Revenue.
The Aug. 8 letter, produced in response to an inquiry, stated the department could not confirm whether Jones had filed state taxes for the two years in question. During testimony, a department employee said it is possible the system her office relies on to produce those letters could take a few days to update.
But all of that became moot when Bruno took a ten minute break to review the state’s administrative code.
“The word is ‘filed,’” Bruno said, going on to reference state code. “Louisiana tax returns are deemed filed on the date postmarked.”
Jones testified she mailed the tax filings in question on Aug. 5 through certified mail and that she received receipts that the mail had been received on Aug. 6.
“I wanted to ensure my returns made it to the Department of Revenue before I qualified,” she said.
She went to the State Board of Ethics to address about $8,800 in fines and fees — for failing to file personal financial disclosures and campaign finance reports by their due dates — on the afternoon she qualified. The lawsuit initially included this as a contention as well, but Steib’s lawyer dropped the issue.
According to state records, Jones filed her 2017 and 2018 personal financial disclosures earlier this month.
Jones said she left the state ethics office at about 3:30 p.m. “I was assured I was cleared in every way and I went to go file.”
After that, she proceeded to go to the Secretary of State’s office and filed for candidacy at 4:23 p.m. she said, pointing to her qualifying paperwork that included a timestamp.
Jones is running for a third term on the board. She was first elected to the board in 2011 and reelected in 2015. Her district includes New Orleans, part of Jefferson Parish, St. Charles, St. John, St. James and Assumption parishes.
She previously faced a challenge to her membership on the board in 2012 because of her position at Teach for America, which contracted with BESE. At the time, she ran the Greater New Orleans field office. But the Board of Ethics found that the job did not amount to a conflict of interest, and Jones was allowed to keep both postings.
The election is October 12.
This story was updated after publication with a comment from Ike Spears.