Sitting judges typically don’t draw challengers if they decide to run again, and that custom held true with one exception this year in 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna, where two empty seats attracted seven hopefuls and one judge drew a challenger from a case over which he recently presided.
Judge Robert Pitre in Division G and Judge Ross LaDart in Division O have reached the mandatory age limit and will retire.
Pitre’s seat is being sought by Adrian Adams, a law clerk for 22 years under two Jefferson Parish judges; Theresa Miles, who has clerked in state district court in Ouachita Parish and the U.S. Attorney’s Office; and Angel Varnado, an assistant district attorney under Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick.
In Division F, Judge Michael Mentz drew a challenge from Juan Labadie, who qualified to run after Mentz sentenced him to house arrest in a child-custody case.
Labadie has said he is running to bring attention to Mentz’s handling of his case. He has accused the judge of doctoring a transcript, a claim Mentz denies.
The race for LaDart’s seat will be dealt with in a later story.
The election will be held Nov. 4, with a runoff on Dec. 6 if necessary in the Division G race.
Adrian Adams, 49, cites his six years as law clerk for Judge Lee Faulkner and 16 years under former Judge Melvin Zeno before that as preparing him to be a judge.
During those years, Adams said, “I learned to manage a court docket on the criminal side as well as the civil side. I know I can walk into a courtroom right now and run it today.”
Adams, a Harvey Democrat, said both judges taught him how to run a fair courtroom with integrity.
“You have to have the right temperament, and I believe I have the temperament of a judge,” he said.
Adams also has been a traffic hearing officer in 2nd Parish Court since 2009 and in private practice for 21 years, doing civil, family and criminal law. He is president-elect of the Jefferson Parish Bar Association.
“I’m the only candidate that has been domiciled in Jefferson Parish for 49 years,” he said.
Adams said he’s proud to have participated in mentorship and adopt-a-family programs during the holidays and to have done pro bono legal work.
If elected, he said, he would work with youth and civic groups to keep them abreast of changes in the laws and programs offered by the court, including DWI, drug and veterans courts.
Adams said he would volunteer to serve on the 24th District’s drug court, which he lauded as a way to give addicts the help they need and prevent them from becoming repeat offenders.
Theresa Miles, 63, of Marrero, has been a lawyer for 22 years, much of it devoted to family law, which she said she prefers over criminal law.
Miles, who is not registered with a political party, touts her experience litigating in 12 parishes, before the 4th and 5th Circuit Courts of Appeal and before the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Miles said she would work to establish a family court if elected. She said the lion’s share of cases are essentially domestic matters, “but they get the least amount of attention.”
She said the state passed five new adoption laws based on one of her cases, including one that makes lying about the identity of a child’s biological father punishable by up to five years in prison and another that requires parents putting up their children for adoption to have lived in the state for at least eight months.
Miles said her time doing family law is better preparation for being a judge than some might think. “What everyone wants is a prosecutor, but that’s a very limited part of the (legal) experience,” she said.
Miles said that as a certified mediator, she has the experience to run the court impartially and make sure both sides are treated fairly.
Even though many civil matters are settled out of court, she said, “it’s important (litigants) feel that when they do get to court, they were heard and the judge was interested and knowledgeable.”
Miles said most of her trial work has been before judges and, while she may not have tried a high number of jury trials, “I’m a litigator, and that’s what I’ve done for 20 years.”
Miles said the court needs more women on the bench, which is only 20 percent female.
Angel Varnado, a Democrat from Gretna, was a prosecutor in Orleans Parish for more than four years and in Jefferson Parish for almost three years before stepping aside Aug. 8 to pursue the Division G seat. “I’m in the courtroom on a day-to-day basis,” she said.
Varnado said she’s the only candidate who has handled felony criminal cases and has prosecuted a capital murder case. She has experienced many of the elements of a jury trial that a judge has to know, she said. Although she’s done only two years of civil law, she noted that civil cases often are settled before seeing the inside of a courtroom.
Varnado said defense attorneys have told her they respect her for being upfront with them in her dealings in the courtroom.
And while her résumé leans strongly toward prosecution, she said she understands that everyone has rights in the courtroom, especially the accused.
“I don’t believe in malicious prosecution,” she said, adding that she has spoken up in cases where she felt someone was charged improperly or didn’t feel someone should be charged just because a crime was particularly heinous.
As a prosecutor trying cases before many of the 24th JDC’s judges, she said, she has been able to “pick up on things that made those judges’ courtrooms more efficient.”
“I understand the true meaning of docket efficiency,” she said.
Varnado said she always has appreciated it when judges show they have read all the pleadings and are up to speed on a case, something she said she would emulate. “I’m not afraid to put in the extra hours to have the next day go smoothly,” she said.
A native of Avondale, which is included in the district that will vote on the Division G race, Varnado said she went to school in Marrero and has many friends in Waggaman. If elected, she said, she’d be “representing my home base.”
Judge Michael P. Mentz, who has been the Division F judge for almost two years, drew an unlikely challenge from Juan Labadie, a man whose child-custody battle he was handling.
Labadie, 45, an attorney from Gretna, said Mentz showed a pattern of unfairness toward him.
He made several unsuccessful attempts to have Mentz recuse himself from the case, which did not happen until Labadie entered the race.
Labadie said there was no basis for his ex-wife’s request that he be drug-tested, and he accused Mentz of altering the court transcript as it relates to the deadline by which he was supposed to take the drug test.
He said Mentz set a deadline for 9 a.m., which Labadie was not able to meet because he had to be in court. Later, he said, Mentz claimed he had given Labadie until noon, a change Labadie contends was done to justify holding him in contempt. Labadie said his efforts to get the transcript of the original order were stymied. He said the minute entry saying he was given until noon did not come out until more than a week later, not the next day, which is typical.
Labadie said he is running to highlight that Mentz doesn’t belong on the bench.
“When faced with a situation where I have firsthand knowledge (of misconduct) and I know it happened, how can I turn my back on this and not do it?” he asked.
Mentz said he cannot discuss any details about Labadie’s case, but he denied altering the transcript.
“I have never altered a transcript; I have no reason to alter a transcript,” he said, noting that he is not involved in transcribing court proceedings and has never reviewed one before it was entered into the record.
Mentz, 58, points to his 32 years of litigation experience and 25 years of civic involvement, having served on the parish committees that expanded the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center and drafted crime strategies after Hurricane Katrina.
He said he hopes his time on the bench has shown voters he deserves to remain there.
“The qualities that the people of Jefferson Parish want and deserve in a judge are experience, someone committed to the community and the parish, and someone with integrity that is hard-working,” he said. “And I meet all of those qualifications.”
Mentz said his experience of more than three decades as a defense attorney in civil cases has helped him run his civil docket efficiently, which in turn has helped him give serious criminal trials the attention they deserve. He said he has presided over three murder trials and three molestation cases since he took the bench in January 2013.
This story was changed on October 30, 2014 to remove a photograph incorrectly captioned as being a picture of District F candidate Juan Labadie.