Plenty of cash spending, mud slinging gives way to Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards' historic win over David Vitter _lowres

Advocate file photo by SCOTT THRELKELD -- Former Sen. David Vitter and wife Wendy greet supporters on Nov. 21, 2015.

President Donald Trump plans to nominate Wendy Vitter, the wife of former U.S. Sen. David Vitter, for a vacant federal judgeship in New Orleans, according to an email from the White House obtained by The Advocate.

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican, had recommended three people — including Wendy Vitter — for the position.

A Tulane Law School graduate, Wendy Vitter has been the general counsel for the Archdiocese of New Orleans since 2012.

She will have to undergo a background check and win Senate approval before she can take the bench. 

Cassidy has taken the lead on the nomination, under an agreement between Cassidy and U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, also a Republican.

Her nomination could generate controversy given the potential appearance that Cassidy is returning a political favor. David Vitter played a decisive role in helping Cassidy win election to the Senate three years ago. 

Vitter served two terms in the Senate before losing the 2015 governor’s race and then announcing he would not seek a third term in 2016. He is now a lawyer and lobbyist.

It's not clear what sort of reception the nomination will get in the Senate, where Vitter was "one of the most disliked members," according to a 2015 Politico article.

Wendy Vitter won respect while serving as the campaign manager for her husband’s three elections to the U.S. House and assisting in his two victorious Senate campaigns.

Before that, from 1984-92, she worked in the office of Orleans Parish District Attorney Harry Connick Sr., first as a law clerk and later as an assistant district attorney. During part of that time, she served as chief of felony trials and prosecuted more than 100 jury trials, specializing in homicide cases.

Her most memorable turn in the public spotlight came in 2007 following the revelation that phone records showed her husband had made five calls to the “D.C. Madam” escort service. In his first public comments, Vitter said he had sought forgiveness from God and his wife for unspecified “past actions.”

After her husband’s remarks, Wendy Vitter spoke to reporters, telling them, “Like all marriages, ours is not perfect. None of us are. But we chose to work together as a family.”

Her resumé lists Connick as a reference, along with New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond and U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt.

She did not return a phone call from The Advocate.

Assuming she passes the background check, Wendy Vitter’s first step will be winning approval from the Judiciary Committee. Kennedy is one of the 11 Republicans on the committee, which also includes nine Democrats.

Kennedy’s office declined to comment on her nomination.

“The decision to nominate federal judgeships is completely that of the president,” Cassidy’s office said in an emailed statement. “We want to let the administration finalize their decision before commenting further. “

Federal judgeships, which are lifetime appointments, are highly coveted among attorneys. At stake is a judgeship in Louisiana’s Eastern District, one of three federal judicial districts in the state. Of the 15 judgeships in the New Orleans-based court, two are vacant.

The two men whose names Cassidy sent to the White House but who were passed over are Thomas Flanagan and Jay Wilkinson.

Flanagan has a law firm in New Orleans. He is active in the New Orleans chapter of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, an important gathering place for politically ambitious conservative attorneys.

For 22 years, Wilkinson has been a federal magistrate judge, which calls for him to sign search warrants, handle arraignments and try cases — 75 so far — when both sides agree to have him do so. 

Editor's note: This story was changed on Oct. 5 to clarify that Wendy Vitter worked first as a clerk and later as a prosecutor for Orleans Parish District Attorney Harry Connick Sr.

Follow Tyler Bridges on Twitter, @tegbridges.