A Metro Council member, the twin brother of a 19th Judicial District Court judge and an assistant district attorney are vying for the 19th JDC seat left vacant by the retirement of longtime state District Judge Mike Erwin.

All three judicial hopefuls —  East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council member and Zachary city prosecutor Trae Welch; veteran lawyer Ron Johnson, whose brother is state District Judge Don Johnson; and East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutor Will Jorden — are Southern University Law Center graduates.

Welch, 47, has been a lawyer since 2002 and is 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.

Johnson, 65, has been practicing law since 1984 and is a former assistant state attorney general and an ex-East Baton Rouge Parish School Board member.

Jorden, 38, earned his law license in 2010 and spent several years as an Orleans Parish assistant district attorney before joining the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney's Office in early 2014.

Welch, a Republican, changed his party affiliation from Democrat after the 2012 council election. Johnson and Jorden are Democrats.

The special election is Oct. 12; if needed, a runoff would be Nov. 16. Early voting is Sept. 28 through Oct. 5, excluding Sunday, Sept. 29.

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 the three men are campaigning covers Baker, Zachary and Central, as well as some areas in Baton Rouge, including parts of Broadmoor and Sherwood Forest.

Welch touts his 17 years of law practice, which includes civil and criminal law and more than a decade as city prosecutor for Zachary, and says he would be able to hit the ground running if voters elected him.

"Every single type of law that you could imagine I've touched at some point in my career," he said in a recent interview.

Welch argues his experience "on both sides of the fence" is what separates him from his opponents in the race.

He said he would start court on time and "stay as long as it takes" so his docket wouldn't get backed up.

Johnson believes his training and 35 years of legal experience uniquely qualify him to serve on the 19th JDC. He says he's handled cases in roughly 50 of the state's 64 parishes.

"I think a great wealth of knowledge separates me; the number of cases and type of cases separates me from the others," he said. "You have to be very knowledgeable and well trained."

Johnson pledged to administer justice fairly and impartially, regardless of social status, gender, race and sexual orientation.

"My commitment as judge will be to treat everyone fairly — from victims of crimes to the accused. Realizing that all offenders are not the same, and every situation is different, I am committed to issuing rulings that are fair and reasonable," he added.

Jorden, a section chief and prosecutor in the 19th JDC, has been a prosecutor since 2011.

"I have dedicated my career to representing the rights of victims of crime through my work as a prosecutor because I believe everyone should have equal access to justice in the courtroom," he said.

Jorden helped create the "Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in the Workplace" forum.

"I believe actions, experience and qualifications speak louder than words. My actions as a prosecutor, as an advocate for criminal justice reform and a voice for victims of domestic violence and other crimes qualifies me to serve" as a district judge, he added.

Welch, who ran against Erwin in 2014 but lost, said public service is important to him. He views judges as role models who should be seen in the community.

"They have a debt that goes beyond just sitting on the bench," he said. "If you sit there and don't make it better, what have you done as a judge?"

If elected, Welch said he would not employ a "one-size-fits-all" approach to justice. He said he wants persons who come into his courtroom to know they've been before "somebody who's listened to them."

Johnson said he supports the creation of specialized courts for veterans, mental health and domestic violence as a way to "build safer communities for everyone."

Johnson said he backed Erwin in the past because he was a community-minded judge.

"He understood people. He understood problems. He balanced that. That's the sign of a good judge," Johnson said.

Johnson's judicial philosophy is that "you have to listen more than you talk."

"A judgeship is a very powerful position because you're affecting people's lives," he said.

Jorden said his courtroom experience is critical.

"The learning curve is not going to be that great because I'm in there — the 19th (JDC) — every day," he said. "I've tried these cases. I'm very proud of my record. Check my record. I'm fair.

"Justice without compassion and mercy isn't justice," he added, noting that prosecutors don't just put people behind bars.

Jorden said he's keenly aware of the dynamics of the subdistrict — which in recent years has seen its registered voters split equally between black and white — and the fact that a black judge has not been elected from it.

"I'm trying to blaze a new trail," he said. "I am a breath of fresh air."

Ron Johnson

AGE: 65

PARTY: Democrat


LAW DEGREE: Southern University Law Center

EXPERIENCE: Former Louisiana assistant attorney general; former East Baton Rouge Parish School Board member; former BREC member 

Will Jorden

AGE: 38 

PARTY: Democrat

OCCUPATION: Prosecutor

LAW DEGREE: Southern University Law Center

EXPERIENCE: Former Orleans Parish assistant district attorney; current East Baton Rouge Parish assistant district attorney

Trae Welch

AGE: 47

PARTY: Republican


LAW DEGREE: Southern University Law Center

EXPERIENCE: East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council member; Zachary city prosecutor; Greater Baton Rouge Airport Commission member; former Baker city councilman

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