Rumors of a dull mayoral race were premature. Officially, Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris retired — not resigned — on Wednesday afternoon (Dec. 11) in anticipation of his run for mayor against Mitch Landrieu. Bagneris has served several terms as judge at CDC and thus is eligible for retirement at most but not all of his salary, according to one insider.
Bagneris, who served as chief judge recently, famously locked horns with Landrieu over the location of a new Civil District Court building. The judges at CDC want to put a new courthouse on Duncan Plaza, on or near the former site of the Louisiana Supreme Court — but Landrieu has thus far stymied that effort. The mayor wants to recreate a “civic center” inside the old Charity Hospital by locating City Hall, the civil courts and other municipal offices there. The judges have adamantly refused to consider Big Charity as a site. (See story in Gambit, Oct. 1, 2013.)
Bagneris got his political start under the late Mayor Dutch Morial, who was his mentor. He became Morial’s executive counsel in 1980 and ran unsuccessfully for council at-large in the citywide elections of 1986. He won his judgeship at CDC in 1993.
Ironically, Bagneris was recommended for a federal judgeship by the mayor’s sister, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, in 2009, but the White House rejected him in 2010 for reasons that were never articulated.
As he enters the mayoral campaign — he is expected to qualify Thursday or Friday — Bagneris will need to gin up his fundraising efforts. Judges are constrained from running for non-judicial offices and from raising money unless they have a debt. That’s why Bagneris had to give up his seat at CDC even to discuss running for mayor, and it explains the paltry $2,600 in his campaign account as of his most recent filing in February 2013. No doubt he is getting offers of additional campaign cash now.
Bagneris has served on many local civic boards, including the board of the Jazz and Heritage Festival and the Tulane University Board of Trustees.