One of 19th Judicial District Judge Beau Higgninbotham's criminal court colleagues is asking a retired jurist to dismiss his claim that he was unlawfully passed over for a seat in civil court despite his seniority.

Higginbotham was elected to the Baton Rouge-based 19th JDC Division M seat in fall 2014, then to the Division C seat nearer to his home in fall 2019. Both seats are criminal divisions.

When longtime 19th JDC civil Judge Janice Clark retired at the end of 2020, Higginbotham claimed he was "next in line" based on seniority to move to the civil bench.

But a majority of Higginbotham's colleagues decided he lost his seniority on the court when he switched criminal divisions, and lost his right to lay claim to Clark's old civil seat.

Higginbotham is suing the entire 19th JDC bench, three former judges on the court and East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court Doug Welborn.

State District Judge Tiffany Foxworth-Roberts, who sits on the 19th JDC criminal bench, filed court papers Thursday asking retired Judge Emile St. Pierre, who was appointed by the Louisiana Supreme Court to hear the lawsuit, to dismiss Higginbotham's claims.

Foxworth-Roberts, who is represented by attorney Stephen Irving, pointed out that the state Supreme Court declared in 1997 that, "Just as a litigant may not choose a courtroom or a judge, a judge may not select his caseload, his litigants or the assignment of cases to his division."

The high court, however, has allowed litigants to challenge procedures by which cases are assigned, she noted.

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"Thus, the right that Judge Higginbotham seeks to exercise is one belonging only to litigants and not to him or any other judge," her filing states.

Higginbotham initially sued only Welborn in December but was told by St. Pierre that he needed to add his 19th JDC colleagues as defendants because they are indispensable parties to the case. Higginbotham did so in July after unsuccessful appeals, and he also sued former 19th JDC Judges Clark, Bonnie Jackson and Richard Anderson.

Higginbotham, son of former state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Toni Higginbotham and ex-19th JDC Judge Leo Higginbotham, has declined to comment on the pending litigation.

His lawsuit says that at a Dec. 9 meeting of the 19th JDC judges, Higginbotham formally moved to be assigned to the civil bench, and Judge William Morvant seconded the motion, but it did not pass. Judge Don Johnson then offered a motion to assign the civil spot to his twin brother, Judge Ron Johnson, and the motion was approved.

Welborn told Higginbotham that he lacked the authority to assign civil cases to the criminal court judge after a majority of Higginbotham's fellow 19th JDC judges passed him over for the civil seat that Clark relinquished.

Higginbotham argues there was "no gap" in his service on the court and that he has a "rightful claim to the civil bench."

Nine of Higginbotham's 19th JDC colleagues told Welborn's office in a Jan. 4 order to allot the civil cases that formerly would have gone to Clark to Judge Ron Johnson, who was elected in fall 2019. A week later, a second order from 10 of the court's 15 judges informed the clerk's office that Ron Johnson and fellow 19th JDC Judge Kelly Balfour would evenly share those civil cases while also splitting a criminal docket.


Email Joe Gyan Jr. at jgyan@theadvocate.com.

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