Four Republican lawyers and a Democratic law professor are vying for the Division M seat on the 19th Judicial District Court that Judge Kay Bates is relinquishing at year’s end after nearly two decades.
Longtime Southern University Law Center associate professor Cleveland Coon, the lone Democrat in the race, contends he possesses the character, integrity, courage and temperament that a judge needs.
“I want to bring the message of justice and fairness for all into the community,” Coon, 60, said in a recent interview.
GOP lawyers Mike Davis, Beau Higginbotham, Chris Oetjens and Jamie Morain Zanovec also will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot in the Division M election.
Davis, 45, of Central, is a Louisiana Army National Guard veteran with 15 years of law practice in city, state and federal courts who wants to continue what he says Bates brought to the 19th Judicial District Court — honesty and fairness.
“I would like to continue those qualities Judge Bates possessed on the bench,” Davis said.
Higginbotham, 40, of Baton Rouge, spent the past 11 years as an East Baton Rouge Parish assistant district attorney and said his day-to-day prosecutorial experience gives him an edge in the race.
“The most important deal is the experience. We cannot afford on-the-job training,” said Higginbotham, son of state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Toni Higginbotham and former 19th JDC Judge Leo Higginbotham.
Oetjens, 49, of Baton Rouge, touts his criminal and civil law experience since joining the bar in 2001 as well as his past service as an Emergency Medical Services paramedic and volunteer firefighter.
“I’m equally versed in both fields (criminal and civil) of law,” he said, while not forgetting his prior work as paramedic and fireman. “I’m not operating in a legal vacuum.”
Zanovec, 37, lives in Baton Rouge but grew up in Central and says she has represented small business interests across the state in 15 parishes and has appeared before 30 different judges in the process.
“I think it’s very important where you come from,” she said of her Central roots. “It’s where my values come from.”
The Division M seat encompasses the cities of Baker, Central and Zachary as well as the north East Baton Rouge Parish area including Sherwood Forest.
Coon, who has taught at Southern University Law Center since 1989, said he believes in judicial accessibility and efficiency.
Coon also said he has not played up the fact that he is the only Democrat in the five-candidate field.
“When you’re dispensing justice, you don’t make a decision based on one’s party affiliation,” he said. “You try to make the proper decision.”
Davis, who maintains a general law practice, said fairness and honesty would be the hallmarks of his judicial tenure, and making sure that the 19th JDC continues to operate efficiently.
“Keep it running smooth as it always has,” he said.
Higginbotham said he also maintained a family and civil law practice while prosecuting criminal cases.
“Absolutely comfortable doing anything, and prepared to do anything,” he stressed.
Higginbotham notes that he has been endorsed by the Republican Party of East Baton Rouge Parish, the Greater Baton Rouge AFL-CIO, and police unions in Baton Rouge and Zachary. He says he’ll be tough but fair, and respectful and unbiased.
“Judges don’t represent people. They serve the public,” he said.
Oetjens said his colleagues have described him as having an “even keel” temperament, something he says will serve him well on the bench.
“Maturity. Not just having legal experience,” he said.
Bates’ docket is currently a civil case docket, but Zanovec says she is prepared to handle whatever cases come her way, be they civil or criminal.
“I’m going to serve Division M, whatever it is,” she said. “I really think public service is important.”