LAFAYETTE – This year's general election for a seat in the third district of the Louisiana Supreme Court ran close but Republican Jimmy Genovese, 67, won, which many are calling a win for trial lawyers.
Louisiana is one of only seven states where Supreme Court candidates are not appointed but instead elected by partisan vote. Criticism with the method of partisan elections has surfaced in the past with critics arguing that political action committees (PACs) with cases to be heard in front of the court can influence the elections greatly by how much money is raised for candidates.
“Predisposition to our plaintiffs or towards our civil plaintiffs or to our civil defendants, that’s where the battle lines are drawn in judicial elections," Loyola University law professor Dane S. Colino told the Louisiana Record.
The election between Genovese and district court judge Marilyn Castle, 63, resulted in thousands of campaign dollars spent by each candidate. According to the Business Report, Genovese raised $261,000 for his campaign while Castle generated $234,000.
Genovese had the support of trial lawyers who, in Supreme Court cases, have been involved in bringing multi-million dollar lawsuits against gas and oil companies operating in the state. In particular, Genovese received support from trial lawyers pursuing controversial lawsuits filed against gas and oil companies by landowners for damages involving alleged pollution and coastal land loss.
Likewise, Castle was portrayed as a pro-business candidate.
While neither candidate confirmed being affiliated or supported by third party groups and companies their judiciary background and predispositions about plaintiffs and defendants in past cases spoke for themselves.
“They [candidates] by large understand that this is the playing field on which they must compete and while I think most of them prefer to be judges and not have to worry about campaigns and campaign financing, it is something they cannot ignore," Colino said.
Among the third parties involvement in Louisiana Supreme Court elections is the Louisiana Association of Justice, which is made up of plaintiff lawyers involved with judicial campaigns and financial campaigns. In the past to supreme court elections, members of the Louisiana Association of Justice have funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into PACs which have run ad campaigns on behalf of the candidate of their choosing. In the previous Supreme Court election, trial lawyers supported Justice Jefferson Hughes who has since been embroiled in a struggle over whether he should be recused from cases involving the parties who supported his campaign through PACs.
The First Amendment of the United States gives people the right to freedom of speech, allowing outside parties to campaign and pour money into candidates' campaigns and the causes they support. Although the partisan system may cause people to criticize the process, supporters and critics alike do not know what other options exist to fill Louisiana Supreme Court seats.
Appointing judges is an option for Louisiana; however, that raises other questions as to who would appoint state Supreme Court judges.
“I think by large they have given up. There was a group that was making efforts to have judges appointed in Louisiana, but that effort seems to have lost the momentum it might have had 10 years ago," said Colino.
There doesn't appear to be any change in the near future for how Louisiana Supreme Court judges are elected and PACs and lobby groups likely will continue being involved in the campaigning process.