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Candidates for a vacant position on the 21st Judicial District Court. From left: William Scott Dykes of Hammond, Brian K Abels of Denham Springs and Ernie Drake III of Ponchatoula.

HAMMOND — Three candidates are seeking a vacant position on the bench in the judicial district serving Livingston, St. Helena and Tangipahoa parishes. The seat came open this year when Judge Doug Hughes announced his retirement from the 21st Judicial District Court.

Denham Springs attorney Brian K. Abels, Hammond attorney William Scott Dykes and Ponchatoula attorney Ernie Drake III are vying to win the seat. All three are Republicans and all have been involved in a variety of cases in the courthouses in which they hope to sit.

Abels, who practices law in Denham Springs, said he grew up in Springfield on the eastern side of Livingston Parish and that he spent considerable time in Tangipahoa Parish during his years of study and practicing law.

“I think that I know the people of the 21st Judicial District and I want to be of service to the great people I have met through the years. The people of this district are near and dear to my heart. If I am elected, I will be a public servant for all the people and in my service I will be giving something back to the people who have helped me along the way,” he said.

Abels said his 22 years of experience practicing law have prepared him for a position on the bench.

“I have spent much of my professional career in the courtroom and I know the procedures and the practices that are necessary to run an efficient court. I promise that no matter who comes before the court, I will treat them with fairness. Integrity will be the mark of a court over which I preside,” he said. 

Dykes said his dozen years as a public defender prepared him for the post.

“I went into a career in law to help people. My grandfather and father taught me that helping people is one of the most important things that one can do in their lives," he said. "I realize that when dealing with repeat law breakers, some of them will never change and that the courts have to deal with that reality. At the same time, I believe that some people who are first offenders or have committed less than serious crimes do have a chance to be rehabilitated.

"As a public defender I have helped guide some individuals who have had to come before the courts to good, productive lives. If you’ve never been involved in criminal law you don’t know who you can help rehabilitate,” he said.

When he entered the race, Ernie Drake III offered his thanks to Hughes for the judge’s many years of service and said he should replace Hughes.

“I have wanted to be a judge since 1999. I have a passion to serve the people and I think that I can do that as a judge. I have been a practicing attorney for a number of years and I have experience in criminal law having served as a prosecutor in Ponchatoula and more recently as attorney for the Public Defender’s Office. These combined experiences provide the necessary skills to successfully perform the duties of a 21st Judicial District Judge,” he said.

Drake said that it is his belief that a judge should interpret the law, not make the law. “I see the judge’s role as protecting the community and the families and children of that community from those who decide that they do not want to be law-abiding citizens,” he said.

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Brian K. Abels

Age: 50

Party: Republican

Occupation: Partner in Boyer, Hebert, Abels & Angelle LLC law firm in Denham Springs

Education: Attended Southeastern Louisiana University; criminal justice degree from Louisiana State University; law degree from LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center

Experience: Courtroom litigation experience for 22 years; Magistrate Judge for Mayor’s Courts in Springfield and Killian, was prosecutor for Mayor’s Court in Springfield; town attorney for Springfield; firm is counsel for Livingston Parish School Board; graduate of Leadership Livingston Class of 2014 and Leadership Tangipahoa Class of 2018; member of board of directors for Livingston Parish Chamber of Commerce for nine years and on Executive Committee for five years and chairman of the board 2016; chamber’s Member of the Year in 2008; former member of board of directors of Greater Hammond Chamber of Commerce; law firm was Small Business of the Year 2011

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Ernie Drake

Age: 37

Party: Republican

Occupation: Private law practice in Ponchatoula

Education: Bachelor of Science degree from Louisiana State University; law degree from Loyola Law School

Experience: Magistrate for Ponchatoula Mayor’s Court for past seven years; attorney for Ponchatoula Area Recreational District; member of South Tangipahoa Parish Port Commission; served as attorney for City of Ponchatoula; former board member of Ponchatoula Chamber of Commerce; former member of Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival board; attorney for Public Defender’s Office.

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William Scott Dykes

Age: 47

Party: Republican

Occupation: Law practice in Hammond

Education: Bachelor of Arts degree in criminal justice from Southeastern Louisiana University; law degree from Southern University Law Center

Experience: 12 years experience practicing criminal law in 21st Judicial District; clerk in Pittman Law Firm in Denham Springs while attending law school; partner in Pittman Law Firm; assistant public defender for 21st Judicial District; represented government agencies including law enforcement, volunteer fire departments, fire district and municipalities; practiced real estate law, leases, contracts, boundary disputes, successions, wills and adoptions; licensed to practice law in the Western and Middle Federal District Courts and has argued cases in the First Circuit Court of Appeals and one case before the Louisiana Supreme Court.