The winner of Saturday's election for a seat on the state appeals court bench in New Orleans will be a veteran Civil District Court jurist with experience clerking at the Louisiana Supreme Court.

The loser will return to her judicial post with a chance to run for a different seat on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal in the fall.

The court considers appeals from the district courts in Orleans, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes, though only Orleans voters can cast ballots for this seat. 

In a low-octane, vitriol-free race, fellow Civil District Judges Paula Brown and Tiffany Chase sport some similar bona fides as they square off to fill a seat vacated last year by Judge Dennis Bagneris, who chose not to run again.

In making their case for a step up to the higher court, Brown emphasizes her experience as a litigator and her community service work, while Chase cites a lengthy history writing opinions as an attorney at the Supreme Court. 

Brown, a 52-year-old native of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, who came to New Orleans on a basketball scholarship to Tulane University, was named to the civil court bench in 2010.

Chase, 46, a New Orleans native who attended Loyola University for her undergraduate and law degrees, was first elected to the court in 2007.

Paula Brown

Brown served as a judicial law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Bernette Johnson, now the chief justice. She also worked in civil and criminal defense and as an insurance attorney for The Hartford, and she served as a judge pro tempore on the civil court bench before winning her seat there.

Brown touts a "trail of varied experience" and her work as a trial lawyer on both sides of the aisle.

"As a judge, I have a reputation for being thoroughly prepared, for being timely, conscientious and treating all parties that appear before me with respect," she said.

Brown boasts of an 82 percent rate of being upheld on appeal at the 4th Circuit and the state Supreme Court.

She also cites her community service, which includes work in a mentorship program for Tulane women's basketball and service on various boards, including Louisiana Appleseed, a social justice advocacy group.

"I call myself a true public servant. I believe we are employees of the people, and in doing so, I believe we are not put in a position of authority to sit on a throne," she said.

On the appeals court, Brown said she would advocate for publishing reasons, however brief, when the court denies writs over legal issues. Those denials routinely come with no explanation.

Brown calls her bid to join the appeals court "a natural progression."

"I am a steward of the law. Holistically, I bring the whole package to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal. I bring the entire public service package with me," she said.

Tiffany Chase

Chase said her strengths are in research and writing, citing a cumulative seven years working at the state Supreme Court, as a clerk for former Justice Chet Traylor and for the court as a whole.

Over that time, she wrote nearly 50 opinions for the high court, she said, and she knows what it takes to craft consensus among judges.

Chase also cites her work on various Civil District Court committees and her lead role in developing a help desk in which attorneys volunteer to provide free advice to those seeking guidance.

"I have a lot of positions of leadership on the court because I get things done," Chase said.

"I have done what appellate court judges do, and that's something that is very distinguishable," she said of her work for the Supreme Court. "I have done everything."

Prior to winning a seat on the bench, Chase worked in private practice as a civil attorney for both plaintiffs and defendants, she said.

She had planned to run last year for the seat that came open with the retirement of appeals court Judge Max Tobias — a race won by her former colleague, Regina Bartholomew-Woods. But Chase said she backed away when her mother fell ill. "There was no way I could manage a docket, run for office and take care of my mom," she said.

But Chase swiftly jumped into the race for Bagneris' seat, announcing her candidacy in August.

"The appellate court is where I believe I'm strongest," Chase said, citing "my writing abilities and how I look at things on a trial court. I'm always making certain that everything is in the record for the appellate court."

Chase has been the subject of some controversy. She drew criticism a few years ago for appointing former Orleans Parish Civil Sheriff Paul Valteau, a supporter, as a highly paid special master to help settle claims under a $14 million award to thousands of people who lived in homes built atop a toxic former landfill in the Upper 9th Ward.

Chase said she couldn't discuss her appointment of Valteau because the case remains open and judicial canons bar her from discussing it.

However, Ron Nabonne, a campaign consultant for Chase, said in a statement that a "review of the court records clearly reflects that the appointment of ... Valteau was submitted to the attorneys for all parties in the case, and his appointment was approved by all the attorneys for all parties who were involved in the lawsuit."

Chase describes Brown as a friend, and both judges have steered clear of publicly criticizing each other on the campaign trail. Their terms on the civil court bench expire in 2020.

Another seat on the 4th Circuit, vacated this year when Judge Paul Bonin took a seat on the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court bench, will be up for grabs in the fall.


Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.