The only race for a judicial seat in East Baton Rouge Parish Family Court in the Nov. 4 elections pits a 24-year veteran of the bench against a state representative with more than 15 years as a family law attorney.
Judge Annette Lassalle, 62, has occupied a judicial seat in Family Court since the elder George Bush was president, and she does not plan to give it up to state Rep. Hunter Greene, R-Baton Rouge, without a fight, she said, despite persistent rumors earlier this year that she was planning to hang up her robe and retire her gavel.
“I wouldn’t be working this hard still if I thought I was retiring,” Lassalle said, pointing to her workload in court along with a five-year commitment to work on a state Supreme Court committee to write a court rules handbook.
Greene, 48, said the rumors about Lassalle’s retirement were a factor in his decision to seek her position on the court, rather than run against any of the other three family court judges — one of whom, Judge Charlene Charlet Day, defeated Greene in 2011 for a vacant family court seat after Judge Toni M. Higginbotham was elected to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal.
Neither Day nor the other two judges, Chief Judge Pamela Baker and Judge Lisa Woodruff-White, face opposition for their seats.
Early voting for the Nov. 4 election begins Oct. 21.
Greene was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2005 and is now serving his final term as he is term-limited.
Lassalle, who also is a Republican, said she was disappointed with Greene.
“I thought that Hunter was a friend and I am a sensitive enough person that that hurt; yes it did,” she said.
Greene said he has adopted the mindset that he is running for the seat, not against Lassalle.
Both candidates said domestic violence is one of the most pressing issues in family court. Each pointed to his or her work creating and strengthening domestic violence laws in Louisiana as their commitment toward combating the pervasive violence.
“That is just something we should not tolerate as a society,” Greene said. “Those who commit domestic violence have no business getting out scot-free.”
Lassalle said drugs like heroin are still a major problem in family court.
Lassalle worked in the family law section at Capital Area Legal Services, the state Department of Justice and had a private practice before being elected to the court. She also taught family law classes at LSU’s paralegal school in 1993.
Lassalle was first elected to the bench in 1990 in a runoff against Luke A. Lavergne, a Democrat. She also has served as the chief judge in Family Court. She ran unopposed in 1996, beat a challenger in 2002 and ran unopposed again in 2008.
Getting back on the campaign trail this election season and walking door to door to meet voters has reaffirmed Lassalle’s love of what she does on the bench, she said.
“My friends have said, ‘Annette, I have never seen you so energized and so happy.’ Of course I would rather not go through an election, but there is an upside to it,” Lassalle said.
One obstacle that she faces despite being the incumbent and serving for more than 20 years is that her opponent has more name recognition with voters from his time in the Legislature.
Family court cases do not make many headlines, Lassalle said.
“I’m confident that we can do it,” she said when asked if she thinks her campaign can get her more name recognition. “ I don’t want to be cocky, but I think that we can get the word out.”
Her campaign platforms are her experience, her efficient manner in hearing cases and her attentiveness and impartiality in applying the law.
“To me, it’s not just because I’m in my 24th year; I think it’s because of the wisdom coming from 24 years on the bench,” she said when talking about her experience and why people should vote for her.
Greene worked as a staff attorney in the state Legislative Auditor’s Office for four years after graduating law school in 1994, then began a private practice in 1998.
He said he never set out to become a family law attorney but encountered a custody case early in his career that set him on that path.
One parent was not letting the other see their daughter despite a court order, he said. His team helped bring the case to a resolution and not long after, the girl thanked him in a gesture that touched him.
“It really makes you feel good that you can enforce what the court ordered,” Greene said. “I’ve seen children grow up in bad situations, and I feel like as a judge I can make a difference in a child’s life.”
Greene’s campaign platforms are that he will follow the law and not legislate from the bench, look out for the best interest of children, hold deadbeat parents accountable, be efficient in hearing cases and be respectful, courteous and accessible to all parties.
“I just believe I have the temperament and the experience to do the job and do it well,” he said.
He also pointed to his accounting background as a plus when having to rule in cases where finances come into play.
Greene said that people in family court deserve someone who is fair to both parties, follows the law and does not try to legislate from the bench.
“In a family law case, you’re always going to have someone who is unhappy,” Lassalle said. “If I didn’t fairly apply the law, I would be overturned, I would be appealed. And if I wasn’t applying the law fairly, honey, I would tell you the Supreme Court would have something to say to me.”
Campaign finance reports filed Oct. 3 show Greene has a financial lead over Lassalle with more than $108,000 in his coffers compared with Lassalle’s $46,000. Much of Greene’s funds come from political action committees, who could be as attracted to Greene’s current position as a legislator as his possible job as a family court judge.
The Family Court’s Section III, Division D shares a voting area with Section A and includes the lower southwestern part of the parish. It is generally bordered by the Mississippi River to the west, the parish line to the south, Bayou Fountain Avenue, Siegen and Stumberg lanes along with North Sherwood Forest Drive, and Government Street and Greenwell Springs Road to the north.
Family Court in East Baton Rouge handles cases such as child support, custody, divorces, community property from divorces and domestic violence restraining orders.