New Orleans — Four political novices are running to fill the seat on the 24th Judicial District Court left vacant when Judge Robert M. Murphy was elected last year to the Louisiana 5th Circuit Court of Appeal.
Hilary Landry, Lorraine Perkins McInnis, Scott Schlegel and John Sudderth all point to their legal experience as the reason they should serve as the Division D judge on the Jefferson Parish court that handles criminal, civil and family cases.
The election is Saturday. A runoff, if needed, would be held on May 4.
Landry says she is running for judge because that position is the best way for her to combine her education and professional experience with her commitment to the community.
Landry resigned from the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s office, where she was the prosecutor assigned to drug court for the last four years, in order to run for the judgeship.
As a judge, she said, she would make sure everyone who appears in her courtroom is treated with dignity and respect. She said she would run an efficient court and would be well-briefed for the criminal and civil matters that would come before her.
Landry credits the judges serving on the court with working to overcome the fallout from the Wrinkled Robe investigation, which, she said, “left a stain on the judiciary, kind of like the shine came off.’’
Wrinkled Robe was a nine-year FBI probe of the 24th Judicial District Court that resulted in two judges going to jail and a third being removed by impeachment.
Landry described the lawyers running for the seat as well-qualified. “We have a good field,’’ she said. But in a court that handles criminal, civil and family law cases, she said, it is important to have a solid background in all areas. “I have skills in all three bodies of law,’’ she said.
McInnis, who has practiced law for 22 years, said she is running for the seat because she has gained the experience and maturity necessary to be an effective judge.
She said the scandals at 24th Judicial District Court revealed in the Wrinkled Robe investigation left the public with a negative impression, notingit is important that judges don’t feel entitled to a seat on the bench.
The court belongs to the public, McInnis said. “When people come into court, that is the most important thing in their life at the time,’’ she said.
Criminal matters are only a third of what the court does, she said, and in 2012 there were only 87 trials that went to a jury, 70 criminal and 17 civil. That means talking to litigants and attorneys and settling cases out of the courtroom is a large part of what happens and requires a judge who is reasonable and able to resolve disputes.
“Jefferson Parish is where my commitment is,’’ McInnis said. “We need somebody who knows the courthouse.’’
Schlegel left his position as a prosecutor with the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office to run for judge. He says he’s seeking the office not for the prestige of wearing the robe but because he knows how a judge can affect people’s lives. “I feel called to serve my community in this capacity,’’ he said.
As a prosecutor in the felony trials division, he said, he tried more than 50 cases, 19 of which resulted in sentences of life in prison and eight in sentences of 25 years or more.
Schlegel saidhe brings an understanding of case law and the code of evidence that are critical for a judge, and said he has the most jury trial experience.
If elected, Schlegel said, he would prioritize cases involving violent crime and jailed defendants and hold offenders who violate the terms and conditions of probation accountable. He said he would manage his docket by starting court on time and being prepared.
Sudderth, who is an assistant attorney general for the state, New Orleans Litigation Division, is on an unpaid leave of absence while running for the Division D seat.
He said he is the only candidate in the race who lives in the voting district, and while that is not a requirement, he said it is important to him.
Sudderth said his 20-year career has afforded him diverse trial experience, something he says is important in a judge, and noted he has the most litigation experience in criminal, civil and family law as well as business litigation.
“I really, really believe a candidate for judge should have trial experience,’’ he said.
Sudderth served as a prosecutor under Harry Connick when he was Orleans Parish District Attorney, and handled criminal and civil litigation as an attorney in private practice.
Sudderth promised to be prepared and to move his docket fairly and quickly.