Eight candidates in race for State Supreme Court seat in special election - three find lawsuit abuse a statewide problem

Kyle Barnett Nov. 5, 2012, 12:13am

Chief Justice Catherine "Kitty" Kimball

NEW ORLEANS – With Louisiana State Supreme Court Chief Justice Catherine "Kitty" Kimball stepping down before the end of her term, eight candidates are battling to fill her spot in tomorrow's election.

After a controversy that lasted several months on who was to become Chief Justice of the state's high court was settled in mid-October, the candidates are seeking to fill the vacancy in the Fifth District.

The Fifth District encompasses East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, West Feliciana, Pointe Coupee, Iberville, Ascension and Livingston Parishes.

Half of the candidates on the ballot are judges from the First Circuit Court of Appeal.

Four of the 12 members sitting on that court who are running include Jewel "Duke" Welch, John Michael Guidry, Jeff Hughes and Toni Higginbotham.

Timothy Kelly and William Morvant are judges in the 19th Judicial District that comprises entirely of East Baton Rouge Parish.

The other two candidates include Baton Rouge trial attorneys Mary Olive Pierson and Jeff Sanford.

Pierson and Guidry are the only Democrats in the race, Sanford is unaffiliated with any party and the other five candidates are Republicans.

In response to a survey provided to candidates by the Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch (LLAW) on the contentious issue of lawsuit abuse, three of the eight potential justices acknowledged that lawsuit abuse is a problem in the state.

According to the LLAW report, Hughes, Kelley and Morvant found frivolous or baseless lawsuits to be a problem.

In contrast, Sanford said he did not believe frivolous lawsuits were a problem in Louisiana.

The other candidates did not respond to the survey.

If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote on Nov. 6 the election will be narrowed down to those with the two highest vote tallies and a runoff election will be held on Dec. 8.

The winner of the race will fill out the remaining six years of Kimball's 10 year term that is set to expire in 2018.

Justice Bernette Johnson was picked in mid-October to replace Kimball as Chief Justice.

In January the 67-year-old Kimball revealed she would be stepping down from her seat to spend more time with her family. She was first elected to the Court in 1992 in sworn in as Chief Justice in 2009, but soon afterward began having health problems when she suffered a stroke in 2010.

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