Judicial races lie ahead for voters in 2014

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With Bossier-Webster District Judge Ford Stinson’s retirement announcement, there will be two vacancies to fill on the 26th Judicial District Court bench in the fall elections. Judge John Robinson is also retiring.

Stinson and Robinson are judicial models against which voters can measure candidates for their seats. Stinson was elected in 1996 and has served as Chief Judge for the district court. Robinson was elected in 1999, and had served as Springhill City Judge for over a decade before voters moved him to the district court.

That many voters may not be familiar with either is not surprising – both are quietly dedicated to their duties and heavy responsibilities. Both will be missed.

Fortunately, however, the balance of the district court bench is of the same caliber thanks to Bossier and Webster Parish voters. Judge Parker Self, elected in 2004, Judge Jeff Cox (2004), Judge Mike Craig (2009), and Judge Mike Nerren (2012) fill out the 26th JDC bench.

It’s doubtful that any of these judges will see opposition for the fall elections. Unless a judge has demonstrated questionable discretion or decision-making, it’s tough to unseat an incumbent. All four of the remaining Bossier-Webster district judges are well liked and respected.

Bossier and Webster Parish voters likely will hear more than a few names mentioned as candidates for these two open seats, but that field will narrow when the reality of funding an election campaign hits. A two-parish judicial campaign will not be inexpensive. And because this general election season also includes all district and city court judicial seats statewide, campaign contributions might be spread more thinly this year. But there’s always the chance for that fairly rare self-funded campaign.

When the field narrows, it’s the responsibility of voters to carefully separate campaign-promise rhetoric from the reality of what judicial candidates can realistically accomplish as judges. The term of a district judge is six years – that can be a very long time to endure a poorly performing judge.

Bossier-Webster judges have offices and hear cases in both parishes. And they hear the full gamut of both civil and criminal matters. Unlike the Caddo Parish District Court in which judges are assigned to specific sections such as criminal, domestic, or civil, Bossier-Webster judges are not assigned to a specific section of law.

Remaking the court into one that assigns judges to sections was a matter of contention in the 2012 election that seated Mike Nerren on the bench. His opponent, Whit Graves (who may be contemplating another run at the bench), advocated judicial assignment as it’s his view that such assignment could speed up resolution of the court’s calendar.

But in judicial races, suggested “reforms” such as this are fairly rare. In general, voters are looking for two qualifying virtues in judicial candidates. The first is that the candidate’s professional and personal reputation is sterling among peers, clients, and community organizations in which he/she participates. And secondly, that he/she demonstrates the qualities that assure a knowledge of the law and a fairness in administering it to all who might come before the court.

That’s what we ought to be looking for in our judges – and what we better make certain is part of the character of those we choose to sit on our local judicial benches.

 

Marty Carlson is a columnist for the Bossier Press-Tribune. She may be reached via email at m_carlso@bellsouth.net