|'Undecided' leads the large field to replace retiring justice.|
It sounds like the opening lines of another lawyer joke: Six sitting judges are running for one seat on the Louisiana Supreme Court. A poll comes out, and guess who's leading?
“Undecided” is, followed by a prominent lawyer who claims she only got into the District 5 race to avoid shelling out big bucks for campaign donations to all of those judges.
Voters will have to wait until Nov. 6 to hear the punch line.
The victor for the spot to replace retiring Justice Catherine “Kitty” Kimball representing the Capital Region on the state's high court remains anyone's guess at this point, although the attorney in question—Mary Olive Pierson—has gotten serious. In September, she hired big-name Washington, D.C.-based consultants recommended by her longtime pal and unofficial campaign adviser, James Carville.
In the poll done in late September by GBA Strategies, which she commissioned, she garnered support from 18% of those voters queried.
“This isn't going to be a lightweight campaign,” Pierson has told Business Report.
“If we're going to do it, we're going to do it right.”
Two days after the poll results were made public, more than 30 local trial lawyers—including Lewis Unglesby, Chris Whittington, Mike Palmintier, Cameron Waddell and Gordon McKernan—threw a fundraiser for Judge Jewel “Duke” Welch, who polled 5%.
Albert Samuels, an associate professor of political science at Southern University, says John Michael Guidry is the one to watch, though.
The lone African-American candidate in the race, Guidry served in the Louisiana House and Senate before being elected to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in 1997, where he is now the senior appellate judge. Pierson's own poll confirms this: Guidry came in a close second behind her, followed by a newcomer to the appellate court, former Baton Rouge family court Judge Toni Higginbotham.
Higginbotham, meanwhile, has picked up the co-endorsement of the East Baton Rouge Parish Republican Party—a nod she is sharing with 19th Judicial District Court Judge Tim Kelley.
Not to be outdone, Kelley's fellow district judge, William Morvant, has the backing of the powerful LABI, which is significant because of the PAC money it has sent his way in a race where many attorneys are holding on to their cash until the runoff. Though Morvant didn't have the most money in the bank at the end of the most recent reporting period, he led the field by far in terms of individual campaign contributions, thanks to LABI.
Then there's 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jeff Hughes. His ace in the hole is the fact he is the sole Livingston Parish judge in the race. That gives him something of a built-in base, he believes.
Is it enough to put him in a runoff? Who knows? say pundits. Any of the candidates could make it past the primary, given the crowded field and divided loyalties. About the only certainty is that attorney Jeffry Sanford is the long-shot candidate. With virtually no name recognition and just $150 in the bank, getting his message out will be an uphill battle against so many judicial heavy hitters.
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