The horses are lining up, but post time is anyone’s guess.
It’s been just over two weeks since the Louisiana Supreme Court sent the longest-serving judge in the state, Frank Marullo, to the paddock while it decides whether the state constitution says he’s too old to serve anymore.
Yet a queue is quickly forming to replace Marullo on the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court bench, should the state’s highest court boot him permanently after 40 years in office.
Count state Sen. Edwin Murray among those dangling a hat over the ring.
Local attorney Ike Spears said Murray is in the hypothetical race for sure. Murray, an attorney for nearly three decades, was less committal, but he noted that term limits will force him out of the Legislature after this year.
Murray also acknowledged that he had been eyeing the Municipal Court seat of Judge Paul Sens before Byron Williams won the Section G seat at Criminal Court in November, forcing Sens to stay put.
“I’ve not made a decision to do that yet,” Murray said of a run at Marullo’s judgeship. “He hasn’t been removed yet. I think it’s premature. If and when that happens, I’ll consider it.”
Also limbering up, politically speaking, are both of Marullo’s challengers last year in a race in which the then-74-year-old squeezed out barely more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.
Former prosecutor Graham Bosworth, whose supporters launched a failed bid to keep Marullo off the ballot because of his age, said he has “every intention” of running again.
Marie Williams does, too. She edged Bosworth by 79 votes to claim the runner-up spot in November after igniting a political firestorm by taping a meeting in which Marullo pledged to back her for a magistrate commissioner’s post if she would exit the race for his judgeship.
“If Judge Marullo’s seat does come open, I will qualify as a candidate again,” Williams said.
Also likely to run is defense attorney Brigid Collins.
A former prosecutor, Collins qualified for Marullo’s Section D seat but then backed out of the race after the state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal decided that Marullo could run and the Supreme Court declined to review the case.
“The next available seat,” Collins said, “I will be running for.”
Just when that seat might become available, if at all, before Marullo’s term ends on Dec. 31, 2020, is less than clear.
In its ruling last month, the Supreme Court issued an “interim” disqualification that allows Marullo to collect a paycheck but not to perform his judicial duties while it decides what to do.
The appeals court last year found that Marullo met the qualifications to run, and it declined at that time to consider whether he had passed the mandatory retirement age for judges under the state constitution, which stands now at 70 but was 75 when he first took office.
The state Judiciary Commission made clear in its recommendation on the suspension that it thinks Marullo is too old to serve. But the Supreme Court has yet to decide, and it’s not clear how long it will take for the process to play out.
Much depends on how much work the commission, which operates largely in secret, has done already to directly address the question.
If the high court does rule Marullo can no longer serve, the state would need to call an election. It’s unlikely that Marullo’s seat, if it becomes vacant, would be put before voters until November at the earliest.
In the meantime, retired Judge Dennis Waldron on Friday agreed to continue filling in as an ad hoc judge until the end of March.
Expect the list of potential candidates to grow, because vacant seats are a rare sight at Criminal District Court, where running against incumbents tends to be a fool’s errand.
Not since the early 1970s has an incumbent lost a re-election bid at Tulane and Broad.
Marullo declined to comment on the political jockeying. But his attorney, James Boren, pulled out the old Mark Twain line, “Reports of (Marullo’s) death are greatly exaggerated.”
“I can’t tell you the number of people who told me (last year that Marullo) has no chance, he’ll never be able to run. Those are the same people saying now he’ll never be able to hold the job he was elected to do,” Boren said.
“I think you should wait until the body is cold and in the ground.”