Early judge elections requested

Lafourche Charter Committee appointed, but two nominees were cast down
May 16, 2018
A new board is in charge of Rec District 2-3
May 16, 2018
Lafourche Charter Committee appointed, but two nominees were cast down
May 16, 2018
A new board is in charge of Rec District 2-3
May 16, 2018

Attorneys for the Terrebonne Parish NAACP want a federal judge to speed up the process of creating a minority judicial sub-district, now that the state legislature has rejected a bill that supporters said held a solution.

“Plaintiffs seek a court-ordered remedial redistricting plan for electing members to the 32nd Judicial District Court,” a motion filed Friday with U.S. District Judge Shelley Dick reads, also requesting “implementation of such a plan in a special election to be held before the next regularly scheduled election for the 32nd JDC in 2020.”

If those elections are held this year — as the court papers request — then already-sitting judges could find themselves in struggles to retain their jobs. Two of the parish’s judges — Johnny Walker and George Larke — were to have retired in 2020 due to reaching a mandatory age. If granted, the request could then have wider reaching effects on Terrebonne’s judicial system.

The NAACP and other plaintiffs sued Louisiana in 2014 alleging that the state’s method of electing judges in Terrebonne Parish violates the federal Voting Rights Act. All judges for the 32nd Judicial District — which covers all of Terrebonne — are elected at-large, meaning that all voters in the parish cast a ballot for each judge.

The late U.S. District Court Judge James Brady, sitting in Baton Rouge, found that the at-large scheme violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, by diluting the vote of the black electorate.

Brady also declared that the structure of the 32nd Judicial District and its voting practices violate the U.S. Constitution and that they were intentionally fashioned to discriminate.

When Judge Dick was assigned the case following Judge Brady’s death last year, she kept to his proposed plan of allowing the Louisiana legislature to craft a solution to the Voting Rights Act violation.

According to court papers State Sen. Norby Chabert was working on a bill but one never emerged.

Nobody in Terrebonne’s local delegation filed a bill. State Rep. Randal Gaines D-LaPlace filed a bill creating five judicial subdistricts in Terrebonne, which included a map drawn by the plaintiffs that Judge Brady found sufficient for correcting the defect during the litigation.

The House and Governmental Affairs Committee voted the measure down 5-3, with no amendments, on April 25.

“(The bill’s) failure in 2018 is the seventh time over two decades that the Louisiana Legislature has rejected a bill seeking to change the electoral method for the 32nd JDC by creating a majority-Black subdistrict. As this Court’s ruling acknowledged, “[d]istrict-based voting was rejected for the 32nd JDC on at least six occasions between 1997 and 2011, and ‘this pattern shows that a motivating purpose in maintaining the at-large electoral scheme for the 32nd JDC was to limit the opportunity of black individuals to participate meaningfully and effectively in the political process to elect judges of their choice,’” the new court papers read. “This Court recognized that “the [B]lack community was persistent in creating a subdistrict through legislative means, and the white local officials, including white judges, were equally persistent in opposing these efforts.”

A pattern of white opposition to the black desires for district-based voting in the 32nd District for over 20 years, the court papers allege, continued into this year’s session. Roadblocks, the court papers allege, included a letter from Judge Johnny Walker to Sen. Chabert, asking the lawmaker to refrain from introducing or supporting remedial legislation. Walker and Chabert have both expressed disagreement of that assessment.

Testimony before the committee by both Gordon Dove and Parish Attorney Julius Hebert was, the court papers alleged, further proof of obstruction, or desire to delay.

The new request for expedition, Dove maintains, is a way for plaintiffs to keep the case out of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is precisely where Attorney General Jeff Landry, a himself a defendant in the case, wants it to go.

“They are trying to circumvent the Fifth Circuit again,” Dove said. “They have got to let it go through the judicial system.”

Terrebonne NAACP President Jerome Boykin said he was not surprised by Dove’s reaction.

“The attorney general and the parish president clearly are doing whatever they can to continue denying the voting rights of black people to vote for candidates of their choice,” Boykin said.

Landry filed opposition to the motion Monday, alleging that is it too soon for remedies to be discussed, because the legislature is still in session and there is always the potential that the legislature could still come up with a solution before its term.

Jerome Boykin