Three days after being told she can’t run for another term on the bench, well-known Baton Rouge District Judge Janice Clark qualified for reelection anyway on Friday, entering a race against at least two other challengers for the judicial seat she’s for 28 years.
By qualifying, Clark, 73, is defying a mandatory retirement age of 70 for all judges in Louisiana. On Tuesday, on the eve of qualifying, the state Supreme Court upheld that requirement and dismissed a legal challenge by Clark and New Orleans Magistrate Judge Harry Cantrell, who is 72.
Clark told The Advocate Friday that she qualified for reelection to allow her time to get a rehearing from the state’s highest court. She and her lead counsel, Ernest Johnson of Baton Rouge, are busy putting together an application for a rehearing, which she said she plans to file soon.
“Right now, my focus is on the law,” Clark said. “I’m reading voraciously on every case on this question across the country.”
Baton Rouge attorneys Dele Adebamiji and William "Will" Jorden both qualified Wednesday to run in the Nov. 3 election for Clark's Division D seat on the 19th Judicial District Court. Qualifying ends at the close of business Friday.
Louisiana’s judicial age requirement allows judges to stay on the bench if they turn 70 during one of their terms, but bar them from seeking another term after turning 70.
The ruling Tuesday by the state’s highest court found "no merit" in Clark and Cantrell's assertions that those rules discriminated against them and violated various rights, and the court ruled that changing the mandatory retirement age could only happen with a change to the state constitution. Voters roundly rejected a proposed constitutional amendment in 2014 that would have done away with the age requirements.
Clark said there are things that she thinks the high court did not consider sufficiently in its decision and she would like the chance to persuade the court to “amplify” her concerns in a fresh ruling.
“I have spent my entire life fighting for civil rights,” Clark said. “Equal protection means a lot in my life.”
Clark said she has not ruled out a future legal challenge in federal court, saying that’s always been a “possibility,” but that she respects the state Supreme Court’s authority when it comes to interpreting state law.
Clark’s departure from the 19th Judicial District Court bench would mark the end of an era, as she is one of the most well-known and powerful elected officials in Baton Rouge. She has served there since 1992 and said when she filed her lawsuit that she felt like her work was not finished.
Federal judges, who are appointed for life, are permitted to retire fully or take “senior status” with full pay and benefits once they turn 65, depending on how long they’ve served. Some, however, prefer to keep overseeing busy dockets well into their 80s, and nothing prevents them from doing so.
The Louisiana Supreme Court ruling underscored that Louisiana judges are allowed to serve out their terms past age 70, but that they are not allowed to seek reelection for another term.