The 19th Judicial District Court runoff between East Baton Rouge Metro Councilman Trae Welch and veteran Baton Rouge lawyer Ron Johnson, the twin brother of longtime 19th JDC Judge Don Johnson, has turned into a battle over experience and qualifications.

Welch, a lawyer since 2002 who has served on the Metro Council since 2009, is a former Baker City Council member and current Zachary city prosecutor, a post he has held for more than a decade.

"The breadth of my (law) practice is wide and varied. I've handled everything," Welch, who placed first in the Oct. 12 primary, said in a recent interview. "I don't know whatever else a résumé could be."

Ron Johnson, a former assistant state attorney general and ex-East Baton Rouge School Board member who has been a lawyer since 1984, acknowledged his opponent has a wealth of experience but said there are key differences between their types of experience.

Johnson, who finished a close second in the primary, said he has handled many more major felony cases than Welch: "100 to 1" as he puts it, which he maintains uniquely qualifies him to serve on the 19th JDC bench.

"My entire practice has been in the 19th. My opponent has primarily practiced in Zachary City Court," Johnson said.

Welch pointed to his prosecutorial experience and his legal practice, both in the criminal and civil arena, and said Johnson's time at the Louisiana Attorney General's Office was spent mostly handling workers' compensation cases. Welch said Johnson's legal experience is largely on the criminal defense side.

Welch — the son of former 19th JDC Judge and current state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Jewel "Duke" Welch and former Metro Councilwoman Roxson Welch — used the word "gulf" to describe the gap between his experience and Johnson's.

Johnson agreed there is an "overwhelming difference" between the two men's experience, but he said the pendulum sways in his favor, not Welch's.

"This 'gulf' that Trae talks about, if you look at the major cases I've handled, Trae has never approached that," Johnson said.

"Practicing before all of the judges here in the 19th, particularly in the criminal sections, that has prepared me for a judgeship," Johnson said, adding that he also handled medical malpractice cases at his state prosecutor's job.

Reflecting on the primary election results, Welch said his first-place showing "speaks volumes" about a subdistrict that is roughly 51% Democrat, 26% Republican and 23% Independent.

"People are willing to look at the person and not just party lines," he said. "My campaign pulls from a very broad spectrum of people."

Welch, 47, captured 45% of the vote as the lone Republican in the Oct. 12 primary. Johnson, 65, who is a Democrat, received 40% of the ballots cast to also earn a spot in the Nov. 16 general election.

Prosecutor Will Jorden, also a Democrat, collected the remaining 15% of the vote.

Welch, who changed his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican after the 2012 council election, said he believes there are a lot of voters who cast ballots for Jorden and who will now vote for him.

Although he would not discuss them, Johnson said his team developed strategies based on the Oct. 12 results.

Both men have pledged to administer justice fairly and impartially.

Welch and Johnson are vying to replace retired longtime 19th JDC Judge Mike Erwin. Welch ran against Erwin in 2014 but lost.

Whoever wins the election will fill the remainder of Erwin's term, which expires at the end of 2020. Another election will be held in the fall of 2020 for a full six-year term on the court.

The judicial subdistrict in which Welch and Johnson are campaigning covers Baker, Zachary and Central, as well as some areas in Baton Rouge, including parts of Broadmoor and Sherwood Forest.

Early voting for the runoff election is Nov. 2-9, with the exception of Sunday, Nov. 3.

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