Many observers have noted the tendency of Louisiana voters to return sitting judges to office, often without opposition. That tendency is especially pronounced at the appellate court level. The retirement of Chief Justice Pascal Calogero Jr. at the end of this year thus looms as a watershed moment at the Louisiana Supreme Court. Calogero has served on the court for more than 36 years " although he faced tough re-election battles every 10 years.
Three appellate judges, all from different circuits, are seeking to replace Calogero as the justice from the court's First District. They are Judges Roland Belsome of New Orleans, who sits on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal; Greg Guidry of Metairie, who sits on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal; and Jimmy Kuhn of Ponchatoula, who sits on the First Circuit Court of Appeal.
The judges also are considered diverse in their philosophy and political bases. Belsome, the only Democrat in the contest, is viewed as the most liberal and is supported by many high-profile plaintiff trial attorneys; Guidry is running hard to the right and is the darling of the state's business, oil and gas, insurance and industrial giants; and Kuhn appears to be standing in the middle, drawing some support from both ends of the spectrum. Belsome has campaigned as a champion of the people, while Guidry has railed against "greedy trial lawyers."
The district is split geographically between the Northshore and the south shore, with the Northshore parishes of St. Tammany, Washington, Tangipahoa and St. Helena comprising about 60 percent of the voter registration. The south shore precincts include the Lakeview area of New Orleans, most of the East Bank of Jefferson Parish and part of Jefferson's West Bank. Kuhn is the only Northshore candidate, while Belsome is the only one from New Orleans and Guidry is the sole Jefferson Parish candidate.
The race has attracted statewide interest not only because it is an "open" seat but also because conservatives and business interests see the retirement of Calogero as a chance to tilt the Supreme Court to the right. Currently, the seven-member court is seen as having three conservative members, two liberals (including Calogero), and two moderate or "swing" justices. The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) is pushing hard for Guidry in hopes that he will give conservatives their fourth vote. The plaintiff bar is behind Belsome with equal intensity.
A runoff on Nov. 4 is expected.
Party Affiliation: Democrat
Legal Experience: Judge, 4th Circuit Court of Appeal, since 2004; former Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge, 1997-2004.
Party Affiliation: Republican
Legal Experience: Judge, 5th Circuit Court of Appeal, 2007-08; former District Court Judge, Jefferson Parish, 2001-07; former assistant U.S. attorney and federal prosecutor.
Party Affiliation: Republican
Legal Experience: Judge, 1st Circuit Court of Appeal, since 1994; former District Judge in Tangipahoa Parish, 1990-94; former assistant district attorney, Tangipahoa Parish.