NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Lawyers for Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Bernette Johnson are seeking more than $380,000 in fees and expenses from the state for working on her lawsuit over her bid to become the court’s first black chief justice.
U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan didn’t immediately rule on the request, which is contained in court documents filed Wednesday.
Morgan ruled in Johnson’s favor earlier this month, concluding she has the seniority to succeed Chief Justice Catherine “Kitty” Kimball when she retires early next year.
“Justice Johnson achieved a substantial victory in this matter, and the requested fees and expenses are in all respects reasonable,” Johnson’s attorneys wrote.
Lawyers for Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office have asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review Morgan’s Sept. 1 ruling. The court hasn’t scheduled a hearing yet on the appeal.
Kevin Tully, one of the attorneys representing the state, has said Morgan’s ruling “creates confusion” about whether she believes a 20-year-old federal court settlement prohibits the Supreme Court from deciding which justice should succeed Kimball. He said the state constitution empowers the Supreme Court to decide which justice is “oldest in point of service” and is legally entitled to the position.
Justice Jeffrey Victory also argues he should succeed Kimball. Johnson sued in July to block her colleagues from debating and voting on whether she or Victory is next in line.
The question hinges on whether Johnson’s first few years on the court count toward her seniority. When voters elected her in 1994, Johnson technically filled a seat on a state appeals court. But she was assigned to serve on the Supreme Court on a full-time basis.
Johnson isn’t seeking any monetary damages in her lawsuit. Her lawyers aren’t charging her for their work.
James Williams, one of Johnson’s attorneys, said they had to meet a deadline for filing the request for attorneys’ fees and expenses. The judge may delay ruling or say the filing was premature because the case is being appealed, he said.