Division O is one of two open seats on the 24th Judicial District Court bench attracting the interest of several attorneys seeking to don the robe and serve on the Jefferson Parish judiciary.
Judge Ross LaDart has hit the maximum age limit for judges and will retire, and Division O has drawn the attention of Harahan Magistrate Judge Thomas Anzelmo; West Bank trial attorney Frank Buck; John Sudderth, a former prosecutor and public defender who now is a lawyer for the state Attorney General’s Office; and family lawyer Danyelle Taylor.
The election will be held Nov. 4, with a runoff Dec. 6 if necessary.
Thomas P. Anzelmo Jr., 43, a Republican from Marrero, touts his experience as a city magistrate judge in Harahan since 2009, presiding over “thousands of traffic and zoning cases.”
Before that, Anzelmo was the law clerk for 24th JDC Judge Henry Sullivan in 1999 and 2000 — which he said gave him the experience of helping to manage several major civil cases — and a defense attorney in civil cases.
“When I finished my clerkship with the judge, I knew even back then that this is what I wanted to do,” he said.
“It taught me the direct effect that judges have on people’s lives,” he said. “It taught me about good arguments and bad arguments and how as a judge you oftentimes have to look past the presentation and focus on the merits of the arguments.”
His time at the court also taught him that little details can have a big impact on a trial, he said, and he promised to work the long hours necessary to get the job done right.
“?‘Preparation, preparation, preparation’ is the family legal motto,” he said. “That’s how I’ve handled my practice, and that’s how, if I’m elected judge, I’d prepare.”
While Anzelmo doesn’t have a lot of background in criminal law, he said he knows the code of criminal procedure and the relevant statutes. What he has seen of criminal cases in his previous work has been from the judicial perspective, not from being an advocate for one side or the other.
“You don’t need to prosecute a case to know that a case needs to be fairly prosecuted and to know how to do it,” he said.
“Once you put on the robe, you’re no longer an advocate. You apply the law as written, and that I do have experience with and can go with it from there.”
Anzelmo said he would structure his docket to make sure that attorneys and litigants aren’t waiting in court all day for their number to be called.
Frank Buck, 57, touts his 30 years of experience in jury trials covering personal injury, maritime, contract, family, criminal defense and international business law. “All three other (candidates) combined don’t have my jury trial experience,” he said.
He said his status as a political independent since 1980 and the fact that his campaign is self-financed also set him apart.
“It’s my way of saying I don’t lean toward this party or that party,” he said, adding that while it may be unfair, “people out there really think judges are for sale. … I understand that that’s a significant issue with John Doe, the voter.”
He said too much of modern campaigning is about party affiliation and platforms, not about the qualities of individual candidates.
“I think people want to hear about the candidate,” he said. “They want to hear about who are you, what do you stand for.”
Buck said he decided to run after honoring his father at his 80th birthday, when they celebrated his ethic of “work hard and get it right” and moral code of “doing unto others. …”
He said that got him thinking about what his legacy might be: “Are you going to make a difference in the legal system? Are you going to get it right and make a difference?”
Buck said he would be a hard-working judge, starting jury trials early and then trying to avoid breaks and delays that stretch them out unnecessarily.
Jurors, he said, “don’t want to sit there for eight days because of a bunch of recesses. Sometimes they look at you and ask, ‘Why did this take so long?’ ”
Buck said there are a lot of good judges on the Jefferson Parish court, which has come a long way since he first started practicing law out of LSU’s Law center in the 1980s.
“There was definitely a lack of commitment then to a hard-working day,” he said. “We have come a long way in my 30 years … but there is never a lack of opportunity for more improvement.”
John Sudderth, 52, a Republican from River Ridge, knows that every candidate feels he or she has done what it takes to qualify for the job. But he notes he’s worked as a public defender, a prosecutor and a lawyer defending the state for the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office.
“It sounds cliché, but in this particular case I believe I have the unique qualities that set me apart from the other candidates,” he said of his experience of more than 100 criminal trials on both sides of the law.
He said knowing the rules of evidence and that criminal procedure is extremely important, and “I believe that I have the right qualifications to be the best prepared.”
After his criminal justice work, Sudderth started a civil practice, which he said was wiped out by Hurricane Katrina. That’s when he began working for the AG’s Office.
Sudderth said he was once on track to go into medicine, but only the law made him feel that he was making a difference.
“I’ve worked very hard for each and every client, and I always felt that I was making a difference in their lives, for the better,” he said.
Sudderth said his decision to run for the District O seat is an extension of that desire to make a difference, and that he wants to be directly involved with programs such as drug court, DWI court and veterans court.
“I think a judge can affect a lot of people at one time by participating in one of those programs,” he said, adding that one of the best things a judge can do is prevent future crimes and rehabilitate those who need it.
Sudderth said he’d like to establish other court programs, particularly one to handle mental health cases. “People who suffer from psychological problems or mental health issues, once they get involved in the criminal justice system, they constantly repeat,” he said.
He said he would set firm trial dates, and pretrial hearings would be scheduled so that trials would get started early in the week.
Danyelle Taylor, 46, a Republican from Westwego, said her time in family law taught her that the legal system serves people not just as clients but as citizens.
“I’ve seen their experiences with the judicial system, and I think I have the right temperament and the right skill set to make sure they will feel they have been heard, that they’ve been allowed to have their say,” she said.
Taylor, who began as a paralegal and has been practicing law since 1996, started her solo practice on the West Bank in 2006.
She said she’s done some personal injury and criminal defense work, but family law became her main focus and gave her experience with business, tax and contract law, as well as dealing with successions.
“You have to understand a whole range of concepts in order to get that done,” she said.
While she does not have much in the way of jury trial experience, she said she likes to remind voters that “the rules of the game don’t change just because there isn’t a jury in the box.”
Becoming a judge, she said, “is something I’ve always wanted to do, but it’s also something that I think I would do well.”
Taylor said she’s a diligent student of the law and has “no qualms” about her ability and willingness to put in the hours it takes to get the job done.
She said she’s practiced law in nine parishes, at the appellate court level 40 times and before the Louisiana Supreme Court three times and has typed every word of every brief she’s submitted.
“I can think on my feet, and I think I’ve proven that I’m a practitioner of the law in the courtroom,” she said.