Baton Rouge City Court runoff candidate Judy Moore Vendetto says that after working  more than two decades in the "background" as a 19th Judicial District Court law clerk she feels she's ready now to move on to serving a different role in the "forefront" as a judge on the lower court next door. 

Chris Hester, her opponent, says he's been working the past eight years on the "back end" of the criminal justice system as an East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutor and wants to move to the "front end" where many people encounter the judicial system for the first time at City Court.

Vendetto, the sister of Hester's boss, East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III, and Hester, the son of former 19th Judicial District Judge Bob Hester, will learn Nov. 18 which one of them will be able to put the title of "Judge" in front of their name. Both are Republicans.

Early voting began Friday and ends Nov. 11. There will be no early voting Nov. 10 due to the Veterans Day observance.

Vendetto, 48, and Hester, 34, in interviews and at a recent forum sponsored by the East Baton Rouge Parish Chamber of Commerce, touted their experience levels and reasons for seeking the City Court Division E judgeship left vacant by retired City Court Judge Suzan Ponder. She stepped down June 30 with 18 months remaining on her term.

Vendetto, who led the Oct. 14 special election with 28.5 percent of the vote, spent 21 years as 19th Judicial District Judge Mike Erwin's law clerk and said those years prepared her for the City Court bench.

"I don't have to change hats in this race," she said.

"I've kind of been in the background for 21 years. It's time to step from behind the scenes and into the forefront."

Hester, who secured his spot in the runoff election with 17 percent of the ballots cast in last month's primary, worked for a civil law firm before becoming an assistant district attorney and said the combination of his civil and criminal law experience separates him from Vendetto.

"That experience is invaluable," he said. "There's no substitute for that experience."

"There's nobody who's more ready than me," added Hester, who is on leave during the campaign from the District Attorney's Office, where he serves as chief homicide prosecutor and section chief of the Violent Crimes Unit.

Hester explained that by the time he sees a defendant in state district court that person may have a rap sheet several pages long.

"At that point there's not a lot of options," he said in terms of pretrial intervention programs.

Which is why Hester said he wants to move from the "back end" of the criminal justice system to the "front end."

At City Court, he said, "We can make a difference in people's lives."

Vendetto agreed and said for many who appear before a City Court judge it is their first time through the court system.

"We're their first point of contact. We can help those people to help themselves," she said.

"The ultimate goal is to not see them again," Vendetto added.

Hester said he's been asked during the campaign why he wants to move from District Court to City Court.

"Just because something's not in the first five minutes of the news doesn't mean it's not important," he said of the answer he gives.

Vendetto and Hester both have downplayed their family connections.

"You're not voting for him," Vendetto said of her brother, Hillar Moore. "You're voting for me and my experience." She noted that the District Attorney's Office has no involvement in City Court.

"He's not why you should vote for me," Hester said of his father, who retired from the 19th Judicial District bench in 1996. "You should vote for me because of my experience."

"I want to earn what I get on my own," he added.   

Follow Joe Gyan Jr. on Twitter, @JoeGyanJr.