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Photo by DANIEL ERATH -- World Trade Center, July 20, 2016 -- Wendy and Senator David Vitter

Daniel Erath

There is an old saying among attorneys about what one of their number turns into on becoming a federal judge.

The unflattering term they employ cannot be quoted here.

But whether it will apply to Wendy Vitter will not be the focus of their attention when, as seems highly likely, she joins the bench in New Orleans. In her case, the question must be not how she will treat counsel appearing before her, but whether she will have any idea what she is doing.

Since federal judges are chosen by politicians, the most qualified candidate by no means always gets the nod. You want a plum government appointment, you'd better have influential connections. Fair enough; that's part of democracy and the system seems to have given us a judiciary that is accomplished enough. U.S. Senators may generally be trusted to recruit from among their most qualified cronies.

But not always. No misdeeds have been publicly alleged against Vitter and it may be that she will turn out to be a distinguished jurist one of these days. But, if she does, it will be a bolt from the blue; there is absolutely nothing in her background to suggest it.

You could find a slew of attorneys with more compelling resumes any Friday lunchtime at Galatoire's. The only reason she could ever be considered for a federal judgeship is that she is married to former U.S. Senator David Vitter.

Wendy Vitter attracted widespread sympathy for the public humiliation she suffered when her husband was fingered as a client of a Washington madam and confessed to “very serious sin” 10 years ago. His determination to remain in office meant that the media would continue to harp on his infidelity, especially when he ran for re-election in 2010.

He won, but the experience must have been distressing for his household. A federal judgeship will no doubt provide some recompense for the sufferings of a famously wronged wife, but this is patronage at its most self-serving.

There was no shortage of contenders for the job, but the fix was clearly in from day one. It was up to U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy to advise the White House who merited the appointment. Cassidy is in his first term in the Senate, where he joined Vitter a couple of years ago. Cassidy won that election in large measure thanks to the support and advice of Vitter, who went on to lose a gubernatorial race before deserting the Senate at the beginning of this year for the lobbying racket.

When it fell to Cassidy to find judicial candidates, he went through the right motions, appointing a search committee. He presumably remained privy to its deliberations, however, for he put his lawyer brother David in charge. The committee interviewed several candidates for the vacant judgeship, and, as a result of its labors Bill Cassidy identified three possibilities for White House consideration.

That Wendy Vitter was one of them was inexplicable in terms of experience or qualifications. When David Vitter made it plain he wanted his wife to get the job, Bill Cassidy must have felt obliged to listen.

Both the other two attorneys who made the final cut boast wide and relevant experience. Both had clerked for clerked for federal judges, for instance, and one is a federal magistrate right now.

Search the website on Louisiana's Eastern District, however, and you will one find only one case involving Wendy Vitter; she was one of several attorneys enrolled in an offshore accident claim that was settled a quarter of a century ago.

Around the same time, she wound up a stint as an Assistant District Attorney in New Orleans. Thus her courtroom experience is both long ago and limited to the state system. Hers, nevertheless, is the name that seems certain to be forwarded for the consideration of her husband's former colleagues in the Senate.

That may not make her a cinch for confirmation, because David Vitter never was widely popular. Still, the proposition that being a senator's wife should get special treatment will be regarded as axiomatic in this forum.

Email James Gill at Gill1407@bellsouth.net.