Baton Rouge lawyer Fred Crifasi, a former law partner of retiring 19th Judicial District Judge Tony Marabella Jr., learned Friday that he'll replace Marabella when the veteran judge retires May 1.

Crifasi, 52, a Republican, was the only candidate to qualify for the Division H seat that the 71-year-old Marabella has held since 2003. The three-day qualifying period ended Friday. Crifasi qualified Wednesday.

"This is just an absolute gift. I'm so grateful and humbled. I'm really touched," Crifasi said shortly after qualifying ended. "I look forward to serving this great community."

Meanwhile, across the river from the Baton Rouge-based 19th Judicial District Court, an open 18th Judicial District Court seat had drawn five candidates by the time qualifying ended. That district covers West Baton Rouge, Iberville and Pointe Coupee parishes.

Lawyers Thomas "Tom" Acosta Jr., Kevin Lovell "Celestine" James, Tonya Smith Lurry, "Tom" McCormick and Miracle Myles all threw their hats into the ring Wednesday on the first day of qualifying.

Acosta and McCormick are Republicans. James and Myles are Democrats. Lurry is a no party candidate.

They're seeking the Division B seat that 18th Judicial District Judge Robin Free had held since 1996 but gave up when he resigned in June, just weeks before he was set to return to the bench after a yearlong suspension.

The special election is March 24 with a runoff April 28 if needed. Early voting begins March 10 and continues March 12-17.

If anyone else had qualified to run for the seat Marabella is giving up, there also would have been a special election and possible runoff in March and April, respectively.

Crifasi will fill the unexpired portion of Marabella's term, which runs until the end of 2020.

Free's term also wasn't set to expire until that date.

Crifasi began his legal career in 1992 as an associate with Marabella & Moore, a law firm that consisted of Marabella and current East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III. Marabella and Crifasi were later law partners before Crifasi started his own practice.

The Louisiana Supreme Court suspended Free without pay in mid-2016 for comments made in front of a victim's family that showed bias toward prosecutors, abusing his contempt of court authority in two cases, making inappropriate remarks toward women during domestic abuse proceedings, and using slang when speaking to defendants in several criminal cases.

He also was suspended without pay for a month in 2014 for accepting an all-expenses-paid trip from a Texas lawyer whose client was awarded $1.2 million in a personal injury lawsuit tried in Free's court.

Follow Joe Gyan Jr. on Twitter, @JoeGyanJr.