At least three judges in the 15th Judicial District will likely retire next year, so let the speculation begin.
Next year is shaping up to be a kinetic one for the esquire class in the 15th Judicial District. According to multiple sources within the Acadiana legal community, at least three and possibly four seats on the bench will become vacant via the retirements of long-serving judges, which will have a legion of ambitious attorneys hoping to get fitted for robes following the October 2014 elections.
Chatter among lawyers, according to our sources, is that judges Herman Clause, Durwood Conque, Glenn Everett and Ed Rubin will hang it up after next year when their current terms expire. And one source tells us that Conque and Everett confirmed in private conversations they plan to retire.
We reached out to each to determine his intentions, playing phone tag but never managing to speak with Everett and not getting call-backs from Conque and Clause. Rubin’s secretary told us: “He doesn’t plan to retire.” When asked if that meant Judge Rubin planned to seek re-election, she merely replied, “He doesn’t plan to retire.”
Only one judge — Clause — must head to pasture; he is 70 years old, and Louisiana law prohibits judges from seeking re-election if they’re 70 or older, although they are allowed to seek re-election even if they will turn 70 after they’re sworn in.
However, if he does want an additional six-year term on the bench, Clause will be watching Senate Bill 5 by state Sen. Eric Lafleur, D-Ville Platte, in the upcoming legislative session. The bill would clear the way for a constitutional amendment removing the mandatory retirement age for judges.
Having three and maybe four judges retiring in the district isn’t unprecedented, but it’s definitely infrequent. According to the Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court’s Office, the last time three judges retired was in 1996.
And getting a seat on the bench is a de facto long-term gig. Although it’s an elected position with a six-year term, district court judges don’t often face challengers once they’re seated. What attorney wants to challenge a sitting judge who might later preside over a case the attorney is handling?
In the last election cycle for the current crop of judges in the 15th in 2008, only Judge Edward Broussard in Abbeville had an opponent.
The other 12 in the district ran unopposed, and most ran unopposed in 2002 as well. (Former District Judge Phyllis Keaty later won a seat on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal and was replaced by Susan Theall, who won the seat in a three-person election in 2011.)
The three judges who will likely retire — Clause, Conque and Everett (we’re leaving Rubin off the list based on this secretary’s statement, even though we believe his association with the controversial “immediate 894” program makes him more inclined to step aside) — are long serving: Conque is marking his 25th year, while Clause and Everett have each served 15.
If all three do indeed call it a career, the field promises to be wide open: candidates for district court judgeships are only required to live in the district, and the 15th JDC comprises Acadia, Lafayette and Vermilion parishes. Consequently, an attorney in Kaplan could run for Everett’s seat, which is headquartered in Crowley, although an attorney from Acadia Parish would have a geographic advantage in such a race.
ABiz is hearing the names of several attorneys who may seek those open seats. In Acadia, attorneys Burleigh Doga, Kim Hayes, Jack Nickel and David Smith are mentioned.
Doga, a 56-year-old Crowley attorney, says he will pursue Everett’s seat in Acadia: “I’ve always wanted to be a judge — it’s been a goal of mine,” he says. “I do not want to be governor, state representative, U.S. senator, justice of the peace or anything else other than a district judge.”
Assistant District Attorney Jay Prather is said to have an interest in Clause’s seat. The 58-year-old Prather, a senior ADA who prosecutes major felonies, tells ABiz he’s considering it. “I’m very pleased prosecuting, but if the opportunity presents itself I’m not ruling it out,” he says.
Also on our radar are Lafayette Parish School Board member Mark Babineaux, and Kay Karré Gautreaux and Marshall Montgomery — the two also-rans in the race against Susan Theall.
Another attorney our sources mention as having an interest in Everett’s seat in Acadia Parish is Ken Privat, who was quick to stick a pin in that balloon. “Oh no, been there, done that. The voters are too damn smart — they didn’t want me,” he jokes.
Privat made an unsuccessful bid for judge a decade ago, and at 68 he says he has no intention of doing it again. He also suggests that, for attorneys who can comfortably command six figures with their private practices, the $136,000 salary of a district court judge can make the job unattractive. “If you still have a bunch of young kids at home and you’re thinking of putting them through Catholic, private schools and going on to college, you need to think hard about all that.”