NAACP case gets new judge assigned

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A judge has been chosen to take over the case brought against state officials by the Terrebonne Parish NAACP alleging voting rights violations because of at-large voting for judges.

U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick will continue hearing the case, which was handled until recently by the late Judge James Brady. Brady, who died recently due to a sudden illness, determined that the at-large voting scheme in place since the creation of the 32nd Judicial District denies black voters an opportunity to elect judicial candidates of their choice, and that the system was intentionally created that way.

Dick, whose background as an attorney was largely in civil litigation, was nominated to the bench by President Barack Obama in 2013. She will now shepherd the NAACP case forward.

“We’re likely to seek a status conference,” said Leah Aden, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund attorney who heads up the plaintiffs’ legal team. “We are just getting up to speed and I am sure the judge is doing the same thing.”

Terrebonne Parish President Gordon Dove, who is not a party to the litigation but has been closely monitoring the case through Parish Attorney Julius Hebert, sees a conference with the judge for all sides as a positive.

Brady’s decision has troubled Dove. Attorney General Jeff Landry, also a defendant, sought to have the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals take the case up. But a three judge 5th Circuit panel ruled that it is too early in the process for an appeal to be considered.

Dove would like to see a remedy determined by the judge so that any party objecting to it can appeal such a decision. So far that hasn’t happened and is not likely to.

“Just giving a judgement without a remedy is cutting it short,” Dove said. “That’s why we have a judicial system. Let’s go to appeal. I abide by whatever the system’s decision is.”

The plaintiffs have submitted a remedy preferable to them, which would create five sub-districts out of the parish-wide 32nd Judicial District. One of those would be a minority sub-district, where the population is more than 50 percent black. One judge would be elected by each of the five subdistricts.

The proposed minority sub-district would likely follow the lines of the Terrebonne Parish Council districts now represented by Arlanda Williams and John Navy.

Dove has been opposed to the five-district plan. referring to it a “Balkanization” of Terrebonne Parish.

Judge Dick was nominated to fill the seat vacated by Judge Rakph Tyson and was confirmed by the Senate on May 9, 2013.

Her undergraduate degree was earned cum laude in 1981 at the University of Texas, Austin. She was on law review at Louisiana State University’s Paul M. Hebert Law Center, where she earned her Doctor of Jurisprudence in 1988.

From there Dick entered private practice, serving also as an Ad Hoc Hearing Officer for the Louisiana Workforce Commission, Office of Worker’s Compensation.

She has a history of community service, including Hurricane Katrina rebuilding and mission trips to Africa.

State representatives could come up with legislation creating a change in how the 32nd Judicial District chooses its judges. So far no legislation has been filed. But State Sen. Norby Chabert and members of the Black Legislative Caucus are among lawmakers who may end up with the task when a session begins.

Judge Brady had suggested there need not be a huge rush in a remedy being crafted by the state, as judicial elections do not take place in Terrebonne unti 2020.

Judge Shelly Dick