After serving on the bench for nearly 30 years, longtime district judge Jerome Barbera has decided to step down – opening the door for a new judge in Division B of the 17th Judicial District.
A three-candidate primary election Nov. 4 has John J. Erny III (R-Raceland) and “Steve” Miller (R-Thibodaux) remaining in Saturday’s race. Miller received 11,704 votes (41 percent), and Erny received 8,702 votes (30 percent). Anthony P. “Tony” Lewis (D-Thibodaux) received 8,253 votes (29 percent) and was eliminated. The turnout was 51.7 percent.
In advance of the Dec. 6 election to determine who will be the next district judge representing Lafourche Parish, The Times caught up with both competitors.
John J. Erny lll
A graduate of South Lafourche High School and LSU undergrad and law schools, Erny, 52, brings 26 years of professional experience.
After graduating from LSU Law School, Erny received a two-year judicial clerkship under Judge Morris Lottinger Jr. He went on to teach business law at Nicholls, practiced maritime litigation for Galloway Johnson and practiced law for Hartford Insurance Company and Progressive Insurance.
While at Hartford, Erny learned many managerial skills, running three offices for the company.
Additionally, Erny said his time working offshore on tug boats,
shrimpboats and trapping nutria gives him “the world experience necessary to put myself in the position of the people that might be coming before me so I have that empathy… I’ve done everything the people on the bayou do to try to make a living.”
Erny is the only candidate who holds a Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Rating, an objective indicator of a lawyer’s high ethical standards and professional ability. Erny has the highest possible rating, a Preeminent five out of five.
“AV Preeminent is a significant rating accomplishment. It’s a testament to the fact that the lawyer’s peers rank him or her at the highest level of professional excellence,” the rating system states.
Erny’s four part platform includes being fair and honest and treating everybody with equality regardless of where they come from, using his managerial skills to run the docket in the most efficient way possible, being tough on crime.
Despite finishing 11 percentage points behind Miller in the primary, Erny is confident he will receive many of Lewis’ votes. Both Erny and Lewis graduated from South Lafourche High School, and Lewis has endorsed Erny for the run-off.
“We come from the same area and ate up each other’s support a little bit,” Erny said. “[Lewis] has already told his supporters and followers that he thinks I would be a better candidate, the more experienced candidate and the one that has the judgment to do the job.”
Erny’s opponent, Miller, 47, is a graduate of Central Lafourche High School, LSU undergrad and Tulane Law School.
Miller has been a felony prosecutor for the Lafourche Parish District Attorney’s Office for the past 12 years while practicing law as a private attorney in Lafourche Parish for nearly 20 years.
Although Erny has more experience in total, Miller claims his professional experience is much more in line with the duties of the judgeship.
“We have judges that can handle both criminal and civil dockets and probably I’d say over 60 percent of what they do involves matters which involve the district attorney’s office whether it’s criminal or family, child support or juvenile matters, so I believe my experience in the district attorney’s office and having a private practice matches really well with what I would be called upon to do as a district court judge,” Miller said.
Miller said his far greater amount of experience in criminal law separates him from Erny.
“I don’t believe he has any experience in criminal law – any kind of prosecution experience – which I think is extremely important. He does insurance defense work primarily. He works for an insurance company. And that is a part of what judges handle, but it’s a very small part and the biggest part – not to harp on the criminal law in exclusion of everything else – but that is a huge part of what our judges handle on a day in and day out basis,” he said.
After receiving 3,002 more votes than Erny in the primary, Miller said he is optimistic but isn’t taking anything for granted in the runoff because he predicts the turnout may be lower due to many of the other races being decided.
Miller emphasized his commitment to Lafourche Parish in a phone interview with The Times.
“I built by career here. I’m raising my family here. It’s very important to me that I make a positive contribution to my community and really to the safety of my community. This is where I’m raising my children. I have young kids and it’s very important that I make a positive contribution towards their future,” he said.
John J. Erny III (R-Raceland) and “Steve” Miller (R-Thibodaux) face off in a Dec. 6 run-off for the 17th Judicial District Division B judgeship.