Criminal District Judge Frank Marullo was hanging on to a slight majority in his bid to avoid a Dec. 6 runoff for the criminal court judgeship he’s held for 40 years, even as the defeat of a state amendment to remove the mandatory retirement age for judges threatens to spark a new legal battle to keep him from ever starting a new term.
With well over two thirds of precincts reporting, Marullo held 50.47 percent of the vote. Former Orleans Parish prosecutor Graham Bosworth was maintaning a slight lead for second place, with 26 percent to 24 percent for attorney Marie Williams.
Meanwhile, former state and federal prosecutor Byron C. Williams scored a convincing win Tuesday night over New Orleans Municipal Court Judge Paul Sens in the two-man race for the vacant Section G seat at Orleans Parish Criminal District Court. Williams held 66 percent of the vote, with 291 of 366 precincts reporting.
They were the only contested races among the 13 judgeships up for grabs in the criminal courthouse at Tulane Avenue and Broad Street.
It appeared that, Marullo, the longest-serving judge in Louisiana might eek out a victory in his first challenge since 1996.
Bosworth, 36, initially said he got in the race only after consulting Marullo, who at the time didn’t think he could run. Bosworth supporters then lauched a failed bid to get Marullo tossed from the race, arguing in vain that he should be disqualified because of his age.
Meanwhile, Williams 43, tossed a wrench into the race when she recorded a September lunch meeting with Marullo, in which the 74-year-old judge agreed to back her for a magistrate commissioner’s post, assuming she’d exit the race.
Marullo was keeping one eye Tuesday night on his Section D race, and the other on a statewide vote on whether to abolish a constitutionally mandated retirement age for judges, currently set at age 70.
Marullo claims he falls under the 1921 Constitution, which set the mandatory retirement age at 75 when then-Gov. Edwin Edwards first appointed Marullo to the bench in 1974.
Marullo, however, turns 75 on Dec. 31, leaving an open legal question over whether he can take the bench if he wins. Recent court rulings allowed Marullo to stay in the race, but were silent on his right to assume office.
The constitutional amendment to remove the age limit might have rendered that issue moot, but it was headed for a resounding loss, with 58 percent of statewide voters rejecting it.
Should he win, Marullo’s claim to another six-year term figures to face a renewed legal attack.
Similar vagaries didn’t accompany the race to replace Criminal District Judge Julian Parker, who is stepping aside after 17 years on the Section G bench.
Byron C. Williams, 60, was in command over Sens, 58. Williams, who most recently served as executive counsel to the president of Southern University, was an assistant district attorney in Orleans Parish from 2003 to 2008, and before then served as a federal prosecutor.
Active as a football official with the New Orleans Recreation Department Commission, he campaigned on a platform to run an efficient docket and partner with NORDC and community groups to stanch a tide of criminal activity in the city.
He also pledged not to hire family members to work for his court section - a swipe at Sens, who was the subject of a 2012 report by New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux’s office criticizing the employment of 18 Sens family members at Municipal Court.
Sens also faced negative publicity surrounding allegations of domestic violence from both sides in his ongoing divorce with his wife, Ann Sens.
Sens will remain on the bench at Municipal Court, where his term ends in 2020.
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