The three candidates for Division A of the 18th Judicial District all have extensive legal backgrounds, native ties to court's jurisdiction, and have promised to make impartial decisions from the bench.
The three men, all Democrats, also pledge, if elected, to keep a razor sharp focus on addressing juvenile crime — an issue that has become inflamed throughout the region as many juvenile detention centers shuttered in recent years.
The Oct. 14 special election, for which early voting started Sept. 30 and ends Oct. 7, was called after former judge James Best announced his retirement. Best presided over the Division A seat, which encompasses 22 precincts in Pointe Coupee Parish and two precincts in West Baton Rouge Parish, for 24 years.
Judge James Best has announced he's retiring after having served 24 years as a judge for the…
Those seeking to replace him are attorneys Lonny Guidroz, Kevin Kimball and Steve Marionneaux.
The second theme echoing in their campaign messages is ensuring voters they'll remain unbiased and willing to step aside the moment it appears there is a personal relationship with a defendant or lawyer involved in a case over which they're presiding.
That's likely because Best's tenure as a judge was marred when the Louisiana Supreme Court handed him a 15-day suspension last year for mishandling a probation termination hearing for a sex offender he knew from his church choir.
But the main theme in this race is juvenile crime.
Guidroz is convinced the sharp spike in juvenile cases is happening because there's no detention facility in the region to house youth offenders from the time they're arrested to their trial or other court proceedings.
"Not many of these cases are going to trial and that's the problem," the 52-year-old Livonia native said. "A lot of these children haven't been (convicted) and their charges are being dismissed or they're placed on probation and put back in the community. Then you have these repeat offenders terrorizing neighborhoods, which has been happening."
Guidroz has been a practicing attorney for 23 years, 19 of which he also served as an assistant district attorney with the 18th JDC, which encompasses Iberville, West Baton Rouge and Pointe Coupee parishes.
Guidroz would like to improve the court's efficiency, in regards to its handling of civil cases, by striving to settle more civil disputes during the pre-trial phase.
Guidroz's conservative leanings won him the endorsement of the Republican Party of Pointe Coupee Parish. In a statement, the organization said, "Lonny may be a registered Democrat but he meets all the criteria Republicans in Pointe Coupee look for in a candidate. … He is pro-life, pro second amendment and a strong supporter of traditional family values and the liberties our founding fathers enshrined in the Constitution."
Kimball is a Port Allen attorney who thinks holding parents more accountable for their children and utilizing early intervention programs are the best way to address the underlying issues driving juvenile crime in the 18th JDC.
"A lot of the parents are not properly parenting their kids. There's a small percentage we see keep coming back because there is no guidance in the home," he said. "There are criminal offenses on the book that would allow a (prosecutor) to charge parents and guardians who are not properly supervising their children."
The 53-year-old attorney of approximately 28 years, if elected, intends to encourage the District Attorney's Office to utilize the resources available through Families in Need of Services, which seeks to reduce juvenile court involvement by offering an array of outreach services designed to address familial issues contributing to a child's delinquent behavior. Kimball spent 17 years as a public defender and 11 years in general practice.
Kimball, who is also a cousin of retired Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Catherine "Kitty" Kimball, would like to push the implementation of a truancy program in Pointe Coupee Parish to get more youth offenders attending school on a regular basis.
Rounding out the ballot is Livonia attorney Steve Marionneaux.
The 64-year-old cousin of former state Sen. Rob Marionneaux says his 36 years of experience as an attorney set him apart and make him the most viable candidate.
"I've got thousands of hours in the courtroom — of actual courtroom experience," Steve Marionneaux said. "I cut my teeth originally on domestic matters, divorce and child support cases. And I was instrumental in developing the Child Support Enforcement Division for the District Attorney's Office."
Marionneaux's legal background includes 34 years as an assistant district attorney with the 18th JDC and serving as legal counsel for the Atchafalaya Basin Levee District and Pointe Coupee Fire Protection District No. 4. Also, he has argued cases for the Iberville Parish Council and Iberville Parish Waterworks District No. 4.
Marionneaux has made juvenile delinquency his top property, but said simply incarcerating juveniles won't solve the problem.
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If the district court wants to reduce the number of teens filtering through its criminal court system, he says, the court must become innovative in its approach to sentencing, education and rehabilitation. Marionneaux says he's committed to enhancing the district Drug Court to give young offenders easier access to treatment programs.
"A lot of this is fueled by drugs; children coming to us from broken homes," he said. "We really need to understand where these kids are coming from. I think we've been just going through the motions for the most part."
Editor's note: This story was amended after publication to correct the number of years Kevin Kimball has practiced law.