Lawyers Whitney Higginbotham Greene and Johnell Matthews secured spots Saturday night in an Aug. 15 runoff for a vacant seat on the Baton Rouge City Court.

Greene received 32% of the vote, according to complete but unofficial election results; Matthews received 28%.

The open City Court Division C seat was vacated last fall when City Court Judge Tarvald Smith won the 19th Judicial District Court Division A seat — a seat left open when Judge Todd Hernandez retired last year. The term expires until the end of 2024.

Greene, 49, is the daughter of state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Toni Higginbotham and retired Judge Leo Higginbotham, and sister of 19th Judicial District Judge Beau Higginbotham.

Greene, who has been on leave from her position as an assistant state attorney general during the campaign, was the lone Republican in the City Court race.

Johnell Matthews, 70, a Democrat, is the wife of former East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Councilman Johnnie Matthews. She spent two decades working in the East Baton Rouge School System as a teacher, foreign language supervisor and assistant principal and has 18 years of legal experience.

Matthews was 69 when she qualified in January to run in what was to be an April 4 election, but the coronavirus pandemic and resulting statewide stay-at-home order pushed that date back. She turned 70 early last month.

The Louisiana Constitution sets a mandatory retirement age of 70 for judges but allows them to serve out the remainder of their terms if they reach that age while in office.

Though 70 now, Matthews contends she should not be penalized for a pandemic pushing the election date beyond her 70th birthday.

Last month, 19th Judicial District Judge Janice Clark, who is 73 and wants to run for re-election this fall, filed a lawsuit against the state claiming the mandatory judicial retirement age amounts to unconstitutional age discrimination.

The other candidates in the race were Greg Cook, Donald Dobbins and Jonathan Holloway, Sr.  

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