Democrat Tarvald Smith wins Baton Rouge City Court judge seat _lowres

Tarvald Smith

Tarvald Smith clinched the newly created Baton Rouge City Court at-large judge seat with 52 percent of the vote.

Smith, a Democrat, initially appeared poised for a runoff with one of the three other candidates, but over the course of returns trickling in Saturday night pulled away as the clear-cut winner.

Whitney Higginbotham Greene got 26 percent of the vote, Grant Miller garnered 16 percent and Jeffrey Wittenbrink came in fourth with 6 percent.

The seat opened up after veteran City Court Judge Alex “Brick” Wall retired months ago. His seat was the subject of controversy, as a lawsuit claimed that electing three City Court judges from mostly white subdistricts and electing two City Court judges from mostly black subdistricts no longer fit the demographics of Baton Rouge.

The Louisiana Legislature voted to make the City Court seat an at-large position elected by the entire city-parish.

Smith was the only Democrat and black candidate in the race, and he was also the first to jump into it. He is the vice president of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board and a public defender in Baker City Court. Smith used to be a prosecutor for the East Baton Rouge District Attorney’s office, and he worked for the Attorney General’s office.

“I think I’m the best qualified, given my vast experience,” he said during the race.

Greene is an assistant state attorney general who has spent the past two-and-a-half years prosecuting cases at the 19th Judicial District Court. She took leave from the attorney general’s office while she campaigned for the judge seat.

Greene’s mother is state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Toni Higginbotham and her brother is 19th Judicial District Judge Beau Higginbotham.

Miller was an assistant city prosecutor, and resigned when he qualified to run for City Court judge. He campaigned on his experience practicing in City Court and in front of City Court judges, saying he knew how the system worked.

For example, Miller said the court can get bogged down with traffic tickets. He suggested allowing people to take care of their tickets online.

Wittenbrink is a family law specialist, with more than 28 years of practice that have led him to local, state and federal courts. He said he would use his own experience practicing in front of judges to inform what kind of judge he wanted to be.