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Supreme Court Race Kick-off



This week, two women judges -- who graduated from the same law school class -- and two male jurists -- who also graduated from the same law school class -- will all qualify to run for one seat on the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Qualifying begins Wednesday, Aug. 8, and ends Friday, Aug. 10, for the Oct. 20 primary election to fill the Supreme Court District 6 seat left vacant by the retiring Associate Justice Harry Lemmon. Lemmon stepped down in May at the now-mandatory retirement age of 70, although a grandfathered state law would have allowed him to serve until age 75. Supreme Court District 6 includes much of U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin's congressional district: Vermilion, St. Martin, Iberia, St. Mary, Assumption, Ascension, Lafourche, Terrebonne, St. John and St. Charles parishes.

The candidates are:

Mary Becnel, 51, of Edgard, chief judge of the 40th Judicial District Court in St. John the Baptist Parish. Becnel was elected to the district court in 1993. She earned her law degree from Loyola University in New Orleans in 1980 and served on the Loyola Law Review. Becnel says she does not yet have an estimate on the cost of her campaign, which will be self-financed. "I'm using my own money," Becnel says. "I'm not accepting money from anyone. It makes me more independent, I believe." Roy Fletcher and Faye Lider will handle her media. Cooper/Secrest of Washington, D.C. will conduct campaign polling.

Vanessa Guidry-Whipple of Houma, also a Loyola Law graduate, was first elected to the state First Circuit Court of Appeal in 1990. Before joining the bench, the 45-year-old attorney specialized in personal injury and family law.

Judge David Gorbaty of Chalmette has served since his recent election to the state Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal to fill the vacancy left by a retiring appellate judge. Gorbaty predicts he will have to answer campaign questions on his brief tenure as an appeal court judge and why he did not wait to run for Lemmon's seat from his district judgeship. "I didn't choose the timing for his retirement," Gorbaty says. A graduate of LSU law school, the 52-year-old Gorbaty previously served for 16 years as a district judge in St. Bernard Parish. Gorbarty says his campaign should cost less than $1 million dollars; his next fundraiser will be Aug. 29 at the Holiday Inn Select, 881 Convention Ctr. Blvd. in New Orleans. Ray Teddlie will serve as his media consultant.

Judge Paul deMahy of St. Martinville has served on the 16th Judicial Court since his election in 1986. The 51-year-old LSU Law graduate is the lone Republican in the race.

Gov. Mike Foster had not endorsed a candidate in the race by press time. A spokesperson for the Louisiana Association of Business Industry says the pro-business lobbying group is still interviewing the candidates but "may take no position." The Louisiana Trial Lawyers Association -- the political rival of LABI -- has a policy that bars both its organization and its political action committee, Lawyers for Louisiana, from making endorsements of, or campaign contributions to, candidates in judicial elections.

Irons Ratchets Up

State Sen. Paulette Irons is moving closer to announcing her candidacy to become the first woman mayor of New Orleans.

Press secretary Cheron Brylski says Irons will officially kick off her campaign before the Oct. 20 referendum on Mayor Marc Morial's bid to change the charter so he can seek a third consecutive four-year term. "[Irons] is philosophically opposed to changing the charter, and she's against the argument that there are no other talented people out there -- she finds that offensive," Brylski says.

Irons' campaign team includes campaign finance co-chairs Leslie Jacobs, the governor's appointee to a state education policy board; businessman Jim Garvey; political operative Ike Spears; and lawyer Ron Austin.

Irons raised close to $78,000 at a June 28 fundraiser and has previously said she will need a $750,000 campaign war chest to run for mayor. Jacobs, who chaired the last fundraiser, said in early June: "I don't think she needs $750,000 by the end of the summer, but we have set a goal to raise close to $200,000 by Labor Day."

Irons will be the guest of honor at a $500-per-couple fundraiser at the French Quarter home of plaintiff attorney Stuart Smith, from 6 to 9 a.m. Friday, Aug. 10.

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