State Supreme Court benches Orleans Judge Frank Marullo, 75, over age challenge _lowres

Judge Frank Marullo

Frank Marullo, Louisiana’s longest-serving judge, has submitted his resignation papers, choosing to call it quits after four decades as a judge rather than keep fighting to return to the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court bench at an age beyond the limit set by the state constitution.

In a letter dated Nov. 30 but received by Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler’s office Friday, Marullo said he would retire on Dec. 31, his 76th birthday.

Marullo, who was first appointed to the Section D bench by Gov. Edwin Edwards in 1974 and later elected to numerous terms, hasn’t taken his seat there since February, when the Louisiana Supreme Court abruptly suspended him pending a ruling on whether he was too old to serve.

Since then, his seat has been occupied by two retired judges, Calvin Johnson and Dennis Waldron, while Marullo pleaded his case with the state Judiciary Commission.

Though the commission hasn’t reported any decision, his plea apparently fell on deaf ears.

“I have decided that the onerous litigation in regard to my remaining on the bench is too burdensome for the citizens to bear; therefore, I plan to retire,” he wrote.

“I truly appreciate all of the citizens of New Orleans who voted for me to be their judge. However, in my thinking, the fact is that the citizens need and deserve a permanent judge sitting in Section D of Orleans Parish Criminal Court. … It has been my pleasure and honor to serve the citizens of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana these past 41 years.”

Marullo’s resignation sets the stage for what could be a crowded race for a rare vacant seat in a court where no incumbent has lost a re-election bid since the early 1970s. When that election might be held was uncertain Friday.

Marullo survived a challenge to his candidacy last year when the state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that he met the basic legal qualifications to run again for his seat: residency in Orleans Parish and eight years as a lawyer.

But the appeals court, in an 11-1 ruling that a narrow state Supreme Court majority refused to review, declined to state its view on whether Marullo could serve if he won.

The state constitution sets a mandatory retirement age of 70 for judges but allows them to serve out the remainder of their term if they reach that age while in office. State voters upheld that age cap a year ago, but on the same ballot, Marullo, then 74, was re-elected with a bare majority over two challengers.

Marullo had argued that he fell under an older, 1921 version of the constitution that was in effect when he assumed the Section D seat in 1974. At the time, the constitution set a mandatory retirement age of 75 for state judges, with no provision for serving out a term after they hit that age.

Marullo claimed he was entitled to the best of both constitutions: the 75-year age limit from the earlier one and the current allowance for judges to serve out their terms when they reach the cap.

Just where Marullo stood with his argument before the Judiciary Commission, 10 months after his suspension, was unclear, because that body acts in secret.

But in earlier recommending his “interim” disqualification, the commission said Marullo’s “apparent disregard of the law, while he sits in a position to administer it, gives the public the impression that he is above the law.”

Over his four decades on the bench, Marullo presided over some high-profile cases, including the trials of former NOPD Officer Antoinette Frank and Rogers Lacaze, who were convicted in the triple murder of her former partner, Ronald Williams, and two others at the Kim Anh restaurant in New Orleans East in 1995.

Lacaze recently was granted a new trial. Frank is still on Louisiana’s death row, the last New Orleans convict to remain there.

It will be up to the governor to set an election date to fill Marullo’s seat.

Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.