NEW ORLEANS – Next week's election doesn't offer voters many choices when it comes to selecting judges.
In Orleans Parish Civil District Court, only two out of 12 judgeships are being contested.
Is this an exclusively local problem or one that is nationwide?
Melissa Landry, executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, provides an answer.
“New Orleans is part of a much larger trend,” she said.
In Division D of the Orleans Parish Civil District Court, Lloyd J. Medley Jr. (D), is the incumbent candidate who was first elected 18 years ago and has not faced a challenger until Nakisha Ervin-Knott (D) decided to run against him this year. Ervin-Knott also ran three years ago, narrowly losing out to Clare Jupiter in a runoff in the Division E elections.
Karen Shachat, Ervin-Knott’s media and press consultant, offered a glimpse into the incumbent challenger’s perspective.
Shachat explained how difficult a “closed seat” election – an election in which there is an incumbent and a challenger – compared to an “open seat” election – an election between candidates vying for a vacancy – in terms of financing. She went on to describe advantages an incumbent has.
“It is not popular to run against an incumbent judge, as they are already well-funded and have established fundraisers,” Shachat said.
Ervin-Knott’s experience in running a close campaign three years ago gives her a slight edge over most unseasoned new challengers, according to Shachat.
Shachat said the judicial candidate was approached to run by many defense attorneys in the Orleans Parish Civil District Court who are unhappy with the demeanor in which Medley has served the legal community. Medley Jr. did not respond to requests for comment on the election.
Shachat suggested that incumbents everywhere - not just locally - have distinct advantages and tend to discourage challenges.
“This is the nature of the electoral process,” she said.
The Division F judicial race features incumbent Judge Chris Bruno (D) and challenger Ruth Ramsey (D).
Bruno provided insight into his time serving on the Orleans Parish Civil District Court. He detailed how his docket is up-to-date and how he boasts an 85 percent approval rating.
“I’ve been a judge for six years. There’s been more efficiency in my court,” he said.
Ramsey, Bruno’s opponent in the election, did not respond to requests for comment
Bruno also mentioned his strong support from lawyers throughout the Orleans Parish community.
How much do individual contributions help in winning a judicial election?
Landry points to financial contributions from attorneys to judicial candidates as a systemic problem in judicial elections statewide and across the country.
She said campaign contributions from practicing lawyers can lead to a perception of a biased court, as these same lawyers will represent a case before these same judges.
“This is problematic for voters, as the perception of judicial elections is not representative of democratic elections, but more a system of self-selection,” Landry said.
Thus, according to Landry, voters are thrust into a position where they are not given a choice, leading to less and less participation. However, Landry is optimistic, believing the key lies in the hands of the citizens.
“The solution is in encouraging the voters and electorate across the state to be more active and involved,” she said.