APRIL 30, 2012 / BY FANNA GAMAL Louisiana mayor defeats bogus charges, CoC weighed in

It's been more than two years since more than 50,000 ColorOfChange members challenged the Jim Crow politics that led to the conviction of former Waterproof mayor Bobby Higginbotham. And last week, a Second Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the sentence of Higginbotham, a black man who was forced to represent himself against 44 outlandish charges and then sentenced without bail after he challenged the white power structure in his small Louisiana town.

In the town of 800, African Americans make up nearly 60% of the population, but it's the white minority that holds the political and economic power. Unfortunately, Higginbotham's case was a typical example of antiquated Southern politics at work.

When Higginbotham took office he set out to make serious reforms to a police department that was under-serving the community. In the process, he made some powerful enemies, namely Sheriff Rickey Jones and District Attorney James Paxton. The two white officials didn't like the challenge that Higginbotham posed and set into motion a series of events to get him out of the way and secure their own power. We sent a record of the events that followed in an email to our members. An excerpt:

As a result, Higginbotham and Jenkins endured major harassment by Paxton and Jones — Jenkins alleges being beaten by Sheriff's deputies, while both Waterproof officials claim that Paxton and Jones had them arrested under false pretenses on several occasions. The harassment culminated with Higginbotham's arrest on bogus, trumped-up corruption charges.  With Higginbotham out of the way, Paxton pulled levers to replace Higginbotham with a political ally.

It’s clear to us that Higginbotham made mistakes as mayor, mistakes pointed out in a 2008 Louisiana legislative auditor’s report. But what also seems clear is that Higginbotham's errors as mayor did not rise to the level of the criminal. In the wake of the report, the mayor sought to correct all issues highlighted by the audit, including hiring an independent auditor to review the town's financial records. That didn't stop the District Attorney from charging Mr. Higginbotham with 44 counts of corruption, all but two of which were later dropped.

Higginbotham was charged with felony theft for giving himself what the DA claims is an unauthorized raise. But this raise was in the budget passed by the Board of Aldermen, along with raises for themselves which they received, just as he did. Higginbotham was also charged with malfeasance in office for allegedly using a town credit card for personal charges — an honest mistake that Higginbotham immediately corrected. Both of these charges are the result of an intentional distortion of facts based on a personal vendetta against Higginbotham.

In December, Higginbotham was finally released from jail for good behavior. But overturning the charges means the former mayor will not have to withstand the indignities of being on parole. More than 50,000 ColorOfChange members raised their voices to draw attention to this cause and demanded justice in Louisiana. This victory is in part the result of your efforts.