“Traffic Time” TV show host D. Nicole Sheppard starts in the pole position in Saturday’s runoff for an Orleans Parish Civil District Court judgeship, but fellow attorney Omar Mason is still running the race.

Sheppard, a solo practitioner with a host of ideas for changing the court's operations, took 39 percent of the vote in last month’s primary. Mason, a corporate defense attorney with backing from several lawmakers, had 28 percent.

One of the two, both Democrats, will succeed Judge Paula Brown, who vacated the Division J seat on the bench when she was elected to the state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal in March. The victor will serve out the final three years of her term.

The race has attracted little public attention since last month's balloting. However, Sheppard said she is optimistic that she can expand her voting base enough to clinch the seat.

“A lot of people thought I won because I got 39 percent of the vote,” she said. “We had to go back and say, ‘Hey, no, we’re still in it.’ ”

Sheppard, 43, runs her own law practice, hosts the “Traffic Time” talk show on cable television and organizes a bevy of community events on the side, from a warrant amnesty day and a domestic violence conference to an HIV testing day for clergy.

She promises to bring the same multidirectional energy to the bench, where she hopes to create a specialized mortgage court to give homeowners who have fallen behind on their payments a second chance.

“The reason why we need a foreclosure court, and that’s one of the promises I intend to fulfill, is that every Thursday somebody loses their house in an auction,” she said.

She also hopes to speed up the time in which cases are resolved and bring more technology into the courtroom.

Mason, also 43, whose practice involves defending asbestos companies from lawsuits at the Aaron & Gianna firm, is cut from a more conventional cloth.

He points to the overwhelming support he garnered from fellow lawyers in a New Orleans Bar Association poll as well as endorsements from state Sen. JP Morrell, state Rep. Walt Leger and City Councilwoman Susan Guidry.

Sheppard has made big promises if she wins, Mason said, but he doubts she can follow through on them.

“I’m not going to sell somebody something that’s not true. I’m not that type of person to say, just to get in office, I’m going to tell you what you want to hear,” Mason said.

The two candidates also have sparred over just how important it is that whoever wins the race will handle a family court docket for half a year, under a Civil District Court policy that assigns the specialized court to the newest judge.

Mason readily admits that he has little background in family law. However, he said he is a quick learner.

“This is not a permanent family court position, and so I can’t promise to revamp the entire family court system,” he said.

In contrast to Sheppard, he has extensive experience navigating through complex litigation involving multiple parties, Mason said.

Sheppard said her experience fighting custody battles and other family court issues will be invaluable on what she says is the court’s most important docket.

“You have to have experience in it. If you had to go to a podiatrist to get your foot worked on, you’re going to go to a podiatrist, not a general practitioner,” she said.

Her warm relationships with current Civil District Court judges will allow her to follow through on her pledges, Sheppard said.

“Specialty courts are not new,” she said. “Most of the judges over in Civil District Court, if not all, I have a really good relationship with them. I believe that some of them will mentor me and help me.”

Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.

msledge@theadvocate.com | (504) 636-7432