Those who pushed for the Baton Rouge City Court to have a majority-black bench say a redistricting compromise passed by the Legislature last week does not go far enough.
The City Court has had three white judges from primarily white districts and two black judges from primarily black districts, though the city’s population has become majority black in recent years.
After a federal lawsuit that sought to have the court’s districts redrawn to reflect the racial balance of the city was denied last week, the Legislature passed a plan with two majority-black districts, two majority-white districts and one judge elected in an at-large citywide election.
But Baton Rouge attorney Steve Irving, who represented plaintiffs Byron Sharper and Kenneth Hall in the lawsuit, said Friday that he is unhappy with the Legislature’s action.
Irving said the City Court — which primarily handles misdemeanors and small claims — mostly serves black people, but white people are the ones who put up money for judges’ campaigns.
“They have created a situation where you have two black seats, two white seats and one green seat,” he said. “Because the money is going to dominate who gets elected on a parishwide basis.”
Irving said those thoughts were his personal opinions and that it will be up to his clients to decide how to proceed from here.
When their lawsuit was denied on Tuesday, Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson wrote in his ruling that he could not legally change election boundaries.
Instead, Jackson urged the Legislature to update the city’s boundaries and to keep up with the city’s changing racial makeup.
The Washington, D.C.-based Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law also represented Sharper and Hall in the lawsuit. When contacted for comment Friday, a representative said the group’s media liaison was on vacation, and nobody else was able to answer questions about the case.
State Rep. Alfred Williams, a Democrat from Baton Rouge, also was not fully satisfied with the outcome. He initially pushed the three majority-black, two majority-white redistricting effort but urged the Louisiana House to accept the two majority-black, two majority-white, one at-large version when it became clear that his would not pass, he said Thursday.
The bill, which has not yet been signed into law by the governor, says the City Court Division C seat, recently vacated by Alex “Brick” Wall, will be the at-large division. Wall was one of the white judges.
Williams said the election for the at-large seat will be held Oct. 24, the date already selected for a special election to fill Wall’s seat.
“If an African-American runs in October and loses, I will be back next year,” Williams told The Advocate on Thursday.
Chief City Court Judge Suzan Ponder said she would not comment Friday about her opinion of the legislative outcome. She only said the Legislature did what it thought was best for the court.
“I’m ready for the new judge to be elected and come on board and continue with the business of the court,” Ponder said.
Ponder is one of the three white judges on the bench.
The other judges were out of town this week and unable to comment because they are at a conference.
Advocate staff writer Rebekah Allen contributed to this report.