A former City Council member, the son of a federal judge and a lawyer who describes herself as a community activist are competing for an open seat on the Orleans Parish Civil District Court.
The primary to fill out the term of Tiffany Chase, the Division A judge who was elected to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal in October, is set for March 24. A runoff, if needed, would be April 28.
The best-known among the three candidates is Ellen Hazeur, who represented New Orleans East and the Lower 9th Ward on the City Council from 1994 to 2000. She has served as the clerk of 1st Parish Court since then.
Her opponents are attorneys Taetrece Harrison and Richard Perque.
The work of the Clerk’s Office at 1st Parish Court is obscure to most New Orleanians, but Hazeur said it requires an understanding of the law and management skills that would translate well to the bench.
She also points to her time on the City Council, which she likens to a judge’s duties. “You have to review legislation, you have to research before you do anything, you have to consider any testimony, written or oral, that comes your way, and then you have to make a decision,” she said. “You also really saw what effect it had on the people that you represented.”
Although Hazeur’s experience in private legal practice is more limited than that of her opponents, she notes that she served as a special master overseeing claims related to a 1987 Gentilly tanker car explosion, as well as serving as a commissioner on the city's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.
Hazeur said her priorities for the court include running an efficient docket and advocating for a new courthouse. A special fee toward a new building is already being assessed.
Two New Orleans residents who tried to knock former City Council member Ellen Hazeur off the ballot for an open judgeship at Civil District Co…
Hazeur’s last run for a civil court judgeship, in 2011, descended into a nasty back-and-forth with the winner of the election, Regina Bartholomew-Woods. This year’s race has generated fewer sparks and less fundraising.
While Hazeur may boast the greater name recognition, Perque appears to have amassed the larger campaign war chest.
He had raised $138,000 through Feb. 12, including $65,500 in loans from himself. Hazeur had raised $76,000, including $66,000 she loaned herself. Harrison had raised $2,400.
Perque runs a small firm where he handles family law, personal injury and medical malpractice cases and represents French Quarter businesses. He is the grandson of the colorful former state Rep. Risley “Pappy” Triche and the son of U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo.
Opponents have painted Perque as the product of privilege at some forums, he said, but he describes his background in humbler terms. As a gay boy growing up in Napoleonville, he faced plenty of hostility, he said.
Perque also was targeted with a homophobic mailer when he ran unsuccessfully for Traffic Court judge in 2013.
“What I learned is tough skin,” he said. “Growing up in a small town along the bayou, that was not the first time I’ve been attacked for who I am.”
Perque said his top priority for the court is speeding up its domestic docket. New judges elected to the Civil District Court are expected to hear family law cases until another jurist joins the bench, which has resulted in a revolving door. Perque pledges to spend two years on the domestic docket.
“Someone you know has been in that court,” he said. “These are people that need to get some relief."
Perque said his analysis of electronic court records suggests he has represented more clients in court than both of his opponents combined.
“For everything that Ms. Hazeur has done for this city, for which I give her credit, she hasn’t been in the courtroom,” he said. “People want someone that, when they take the bench, will know what they’re doing.”
Rounding out the slate of candidates is solo practitioner Harrison.
She describes herself as a community activist, and some voters may recognize her from a City Council meeting on the Sewerage & Water Board’s woes last year, when she held up a sign with the word “LIES.”
"I’m not a career politician. I’m not connected to any kind of political machine. I’m Taetrece Harrison from Hollygrove, from humble beginnings," she said.
Harrison also has been in the news for facing a charge of aggravated assault in connection with allegations that she pointed a gun at a man in a Central Business District parking lot last year. A jury acquitted her in January.
That courtroom experience gave her a deeper understanding of what it means to go before a judge, she said.
“Because I’ve had to be on both sides, that makes me definitely in a unique position,” she said. “I know when I was sitting in criminal court, I wanted the judge to be fair and impartial."
Harrison said that as a judge, she would tap other lawyers to assist pro se litigants — people acting as their own attorney — with their filings. That would speed up the docket for everyone, she said.
“It may be as simple as filing one little document,” she said. “It’s going to provide an opportunity for everyone to get in and out of my courtroom.”
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