What's normally a subdued contest for a seat on the state 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal has become the center of political attention in an off-season special election.
Three Republicans, all Lafayette attorneys, are vying to serve out the unexpired term of former appeals court Judge Jimmy Genovese, who won a seat on the state Supreme Court last year.
Vanessa Waguespack Anseman, Candyce Perret and Susan Theall have been in a campaign sprint toward Saturday's election that began with qualifying in January and has had one candidate fending off allegations from her past and another forced to mount a legal challenge to remain in the race.
If no candidate wins a majority of the vote on Saturday, the two top vote-getters will face each other in an April 29 run-off.
The campaign attracted headlines early on when stories began circulating about Perret's past.
According to court records, she was cited with a misdemeanor in 2004 in Florida for alleged indecent exposure on a beach, a charge that was later dropped as part of a deferred prosecution agreement.
About a year later, New Orleans attorney John Houghtaling II filed for a restraining order against her, alleging harassment after he and Perret ended a relationship, according to a report by The Independent based on court filings obtained by the Lafayette news organization.
In correspondence with The Independent, Houghtaling wrote that the restraining order "was filed in the heat of the romantic moment and shortly after its filing, I deemed the filing inappropriate."
Perret characterized the revelations as efforts by the other candidates to tarnish her campaign and declined to delve into the details, other than to say that the charges were dropped in the Florida incident because she had done nothing wrong.
"My opponents are digging for dirt, and I think they have hit rock bottom," she said.
Perret, who with more than $300,000 in campaign contributions has out-raised both of her opponents combined, said serving as a judge is the type of professional milestone she has worked for since she first decided at the age of 15 to pursue a legal career.
She cites a background that includes work as a city prosecutor in Marksville, at major firms in New Orleans and Opelousas, and as a law clerk for the state Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal.
Perret said she is passionate about legal research and feels she has a firm grip on the diversity of legal issues that come before appeals court judges.
"I am the only candidate with actual appellate experience," Perret said. "I feel like I could walk in the door tomorrow and hit the ground running."
She is currently co-owner and general counsel of The Perret Group, a family business with interests in real estate, oil-and-gas and healthcare.
Perhaps the most unusual turn of events in the race, and the one to generate the most intense media coverage, was the brief period in which Anseman was deemed ineligible to run.
St. Landry Parish District Judge Alonzo Harris ruled on March 13 that Anseman did not meet the state constitutional requirement for the seat of having been admitted to practice law for at least 10 years
Anseman's campaign was revived Monday when the state 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal reversed Harris' ruling.
Lafayette attorney Vanessa Waguespack Anseman's bid for a seat on the state 3rd Circuit Cour…
The St. Landry Parish District Attorney's office had challenged her candidacy, arguing that Anseman, even though she received her law degree in 2003, was a few weeks shy of the 10-year requirement.
The DA's office maintained Anseman lacked the required 10 years because she temporarily lost her eligibility to practice law after allowing her state bar association dues lapse and by failing to stay current with continuing legal education requirements when she had taken time off to care for her family.
The issue became moot on Monday after the state Supreme Court clarified the eligibility dates at issue in the challenge to her candidacy.
Under new calculations, she clearly met the 10-year threshold.
Anseman, who has raised $96,000 for her campaign, said she had to put her campaign on pause while mounting a legal challenge, and, like Perret, points the finger at the other candidates.
"My opponents pushed this bogus lawsuit down the pike using the DA, using our court system, using taxpayer money, to campaign against me," Anseman said.
St. Landry Parish District Attorney Earl Taylor said politics played no role is his decision to challenge Anseman and that he felt legally mandated to act after a resident made a complaint about her qualifications to his office.
Regardless, the episode has provided campaign fodder for Anseman, who has positioned herself as the political outsider in the race.
"I've literally been walking the walk," she said. "The politics and the ways in which politicians control or attempt to control and influence our judiciary is shocking."
Anseman, whose background includes work at the major firms of Jones Walker and Liskow & Lewis, said the appeals court plays to her strengths and experience in litigating cases on the breadth of legal issues an appeals court judge must navigate.
"I have a really vast, wide range of litigation experience, and these are the cases that the 3rd Circuit sees," she said.
With much of the attention focused on Perret and Anseman, the third candidate, Theall, has flown largely under the radar.
She has received only about $35,000 in campaign contributions, far below the other two candidates, according to the most recent campaign finance filings.
But she is not dismayed by the lack of funding.
"Elections should not be about money," Theall said.
Instead, the Lafayette family law attorney is banking on her experience.
Theall, who has practiced law for 31 years, frames herself as the most seasoned of the three candidates and the only one who has served as a judge.
Theall was elected as 15th Judicial District Judge in 2011 to fill the unexpired term of Phyllis Keaty, who vacated the seat when elected to 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal.
Theall served until 2014, when she lost her bid for re-election.
"That length of experience and that experience as a judge, I believe, make me uniquely qualified for this position," she said.
Theall said she has spent years "in the trenches" and doesn't believe the other two candidates have put in the years necessary to sit as a judge.
"I think it requires some real depth of experience," she said. "I do believe to be a judge, you have to have established yourself as a lawyer first."
The 3rd Court of Appeal encompasses 21 parishes and is based in Lake Charles. This election is for District 3 of the 3rd Circuit, which encompasses Acadia, Allen, Evangeline, Lafayette, Iberia, St. Landry, St. Martin and Vermilion parishes.