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Judge James Best, of the 18th Judicial District Court ORG XMIT: BAT1605031516171745

Matthew Hinton

Judge James Best has announced he's retiring after having served 24 years as a judge for the 18th Judicial District.

Best's retirement will take effect May 15, according to a letter dated Feb. 21 that he submitted to the Louisiana Secretary of State's Office.

"My wife and I have been talking about this for awhile," Best said in a telephone interview with The Advocate. "It was a wonderful experience but it's just time to move on and let a younger person take the seat."

The Governor's Office will have to call a special election to fill Best's unexpired term, which ends Dec. 2020.

Richard Carbo, spokesman for the Governor's Office, said Tuesday their office has yet to receive notice of Best's retirement from the Secretary of State's Office.

"Once we get it we'll have 30 days to call a special election," Carbo said.

According to the Secretary of State's Office, that special election could take place Oct. 14 with qualifying happening between July 12-14.

Best, who is 63, was never opposed since he won a set on the 18th Judicial District in 1993. The district encompasses West Baton Rouge, Iberville and Pointe Coupee parishes.

Best began his 30-year career in the legal profession as a public defender. He was encouraged by a friend to seek the seat on the bench that was left vacant when Catherine "Kitty" Kimball was appointed to serve on the state's highest court.

"I looked at him like he was crazy when he said it. But he planted a seed that I talked over and prayed about with my wife before deciding to run," Best said.

Best's tenure as a judge was marred by recent controversy when the Louisiana Supreme Court handed him a 15-day suspension last year for mishandling a probation termination hearing for a sex offender he knew from his church choir.

The humility Best showed when he appeared before the state Supreme Court justices to answer for the allegations drew praise not only from the justices but from constituents back home who told him he handled the difficult situation with dignity.

Best said that setback did not influence his decision to retire before his term ended.

"Of course I wish it never would have happened," he said. "But I tried to handle it the best way I knew how."

The judge said he signed up to participate in the state's Deferred Retirement Option Plan, commonly known as DROP. Because that meant he would earn less money for doing the same work after April 1, he said, that weighed more heavily in his decision to retire at this time.

Best said he plans to spend more time with his family and two grandchildren during retirement but intends to also practice law in a limited capacity. In addition, he said he'll continue to work in his church, play his guitar and ride horses.

"After 24 years, this is probably one of the most controversial jobs a human being can have," he said. "I'm going to miss it. My wife says I'm addicted to people."

Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.