Seven candidates are running to fill the Criminal Court Section A seat vacated by former Judge Charles Elloie. He resigned recently (after 10 years on the bench) while under investigation by the Louisiana Judiciary Commission for allegations of judicial misconduct.
The race represents 'the only opportunity in this election cycle to upgrade the New Orleans criminal justice system by electing a qualified candidate as judge," says Rafael Goyeneche, president of the private Metropolitan Crime Commission, a watchdog organization. All other Criminal Court judges and District Attorney Eddie Jordan Jr. stand for re-election next year.
Courthouse politicos say attorney Laurie White, who has advertised heavily on television, is the frontrunner, with three other candidates battling for the other expected runoff spot. The other candidates are criminal defense attorney Juana Marina Lombard, who got on television late; Gaynell Williams, first assistant to DA Jordan, whose campaign is largely powered by personal loans; and perennial candidate Morris Reed, the possible 'sleeper" in the race who held the Section A seat before Elloie. Rounding out the field are perennial candidate Joseph A. Rome, Republican trial attorney Donald Sauviac Jr. and trial attorney Gary Wainwright, a Green Party candidate who ran for district attorney in 2002.
Lombard, who ran for Clerk of Criminal Court last year, has 14 years of experience, including five years as a public defender. She proposes using house arrest and electronic monitoring to control violent and accused sex offenders. Lombard also plans to create a fifth drug court at the 12-section courthouse and to require 'low-risk offenders" to obtain a GED and a job skill as a condition of probation. Her endorsements include City Council members Cynthia Hedge-Morrell and James Carter, state Rep. Jean-Paul Morrell, Clerk of Criminal Court Arthur Morrell and the Alliance for Good Government.
Reed, whose 38 years of legal experience include work as an NOPD officer, DEA agent and federal prosecutor, is on leave as General Counsel to Clerk of Criminal District Court Arthur Morrell. Reed ran for the clerk's job last year. He served as judge of Section A from 1992-1996, but resigned to run for district attorney in 1996. Once described as a 'tough campaigner" by arch-foe and former District Attorney Harry Connick, Reed has run for public office nearly every year since then " including several other judgeships. Personal financial problems, including bankruptcy and bounced checks, haunted Reed's campaign until he ran a memorable TV spot in a pre-Katrina judicial campaign in which he declared that all his debts had been paid.
White has worked for 15 years in all 12 sections of Criminal Court as both a prosecutor and defense attorney. She is recognized as an expert in criminal law by the National Board of Criminal Trial Advocacy. If elected, she promises to be tough on violent offenders but require drug treatment and counseling for young and first-time offenders, and mandate education as a condition of probation. She vows to improve communications between NOPD, the DA's office, other judges and the public. She pledges to work with researchers, educators and others to seek new ideas and to resolve old problems in the criminal justice system. Her endorsements include the AFL-CIO, the New Orleans Bar Association, the RDO and the New Orleans Coalition.
Williams is making her first bid for public office. She is campaigning as the first black first assistant Orleans Parish DA, and also was the first black female prosecutor in Jefferson Parish. She previously has served as judge pro tempore in Jefferson Parish. Williams boasts 20 years of prosecutorial experience in both state and federal courts. She says she is the only career prosecutor in the race and reiterates she has never represented a criminal defendant. Williams promises to be tough on violent offenders and to consider alternative sentencing options for nonviolent offenders in divisions such as drug court and mental health court. She also promises to talk to youth about avoiding drugs.
Williams' race is widely seen as a test of Eddie Jordan's political appeal and a harbinger for the DA's race in the fall of 2008.
Three Democrats are vying for the Municipal Court seat vacated by longtime Judge Bruce McConduit, who retired.
Orleans Parish Recorder of Mortgages Desiree M. Charbonnet has been practicing law for more than 11 years. Her elective mortgages office will soon be abolished. Charbonnet, who also is president of the board for Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Southeast Louisiana, says she would strengthen the court's domestic violence program by improving coordination and communication between the court and local agencies that offer counseling to victims. She is endorsed by the Alliance for Good Government, the AFL-CIO, Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman, and the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee.
Political newcomer Tracy Flemmings-Davillier has practiced law for 13 years at the firm of Phelps Dunbar LLP. She says she will develop a Web site for the court and install computer kiosks at the facility to allow citizens to access and print out case records.
Political newcomer Clarence Roby Jr. is an administrative hearing judge for the city Taxicab Bureau and a trial lawyer with 17 years of experience, including what he says are 'hundreds" of Municipal Court matters. If elected, Roby says he would improve the court's coordination, communication and allocation of resources from the New Orleans Police Department and social service agencies.