Following virtual hearing, judge to make decision if Harry Silver can attend city council virtually

Published: Jul. 2, 2020 at 3:22 PM CDT
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - A federal judge in Alexandria said he will make a decision on Monday about whether or not District 4 Councilman Harry Silver can attend Alexandria City Council meetings virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last month, Silver filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Alexandria and council president Jules Green alleging that the two weren’t accommodating his request to attend council meetings virtually due to existing heart ailments and his susceptibility at age 98 to contract COVID-19. His attorney, Andrew Bizer, said it was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act.

Back on June 9, Councilmen Green, Malcolm Larvadain, Joe Fuller, and Gerber Porter all voted not to allow Silver to attend via telephone.

In a virtual court hearing held using Zoom on Thursday in the Western District, Bizer told Judge Dee Drell that Silver is a “person with a disability and he has asked for a reasonable accommodation and has been denied. There has been absolutely no dialogue between he and the city council and the City of Alexandria to discuss what accommodations they should provide him.”

Attorneys for the City of Alexandria and Green argue that making those accommodations would violate state law and open meetings rules.

“With respect to whether or not Mr. Silver is disabled under the ADA, it just seems apparent that they are trying to pigeonholed this case under the ADA rather then some other cause of action that Mr. Silver may have,” said Druit Gremillion, the attorney representing the City of Alexandria on the matter. “Prior to the COVID pandemic, I’m not sure whether anybody would consider Mr. Silver disabled. And, it’s only because of this pandemic that he is now claiming that he is limited in life’s activities.”

Judge Drell pushed back.

“Why is this any sweat on the city’s brow at all? Take a computer, plug in Zoom, and bam you’re there. Just like we’re doing now,” said Judge Drell. “Part of the problem with the (state) law is that it lags a decade behind the technology.”

Silver got the chance to testify at the hearing. His attorney asked him how it made him feel to know that he couldn’t be accommodated at the moment and serve his district as he wants to.

“Ill,” said Silver. “It’s very upsetting.”

Kelvin Sanders, who represents Green, asked Silver a series of questions pertaining to if he has left his home since the start of the pandemic and what precautions he’s taken to stay safe.

Silver said he’s left the house “only for medical reasons” and has just gone “to the physician’s office.”

As Drell prepared to wrap the hearing, he cautioned the attorney’s about where the case could be heading, specifically as it pertained to Silver’s age and a belief that he’s the oldest elected official in the United States.

“How slippery really is the slope? Mr. Silver has the fame I guess of being the oldest public official in the United States somebody said. I don’t know that to be true. But, how slippery is this slope if, in fact, a determination is made in this case on these facts? I don’t find the argument disingenuous, but these are strange circumstances I think,” he said.

Copyright 2020 KALB. All rights reserved.

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