On March 25, Orleans Parish Voters will go to the polls to fill two judgeships—one on the Orleans Parish Civil District Court and another in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal.
FOURTH CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEAL, DIVISION C
The Fourth Circuit of Appeal, through either writs or the appeals process, reviews the decisions of juvenile court judges, criminal court judges and juries and civil court judges and juries for Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes. The Court is composed of two judges elected at-large from the three-parish area, one each from St. Bernard and Plaquemines and eight from Orleans. It is the second highest court in the state with jurisdiction over cases from Orleans Parish Civil and Criminal District Courts and District Courts in Plaquemines and St. Bernard.
Civil District Court Judge Paula Brown faces fellow Civil District Court Judge Tiffany Chase as both vie for the open seat on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal, Division C.
JUDGE PAULA BROWN
A graduate of Tulane University and Southern University Law Center, Paula Brown has served as the judge in Division J of Civil District Court for the last seven years and has more than 25 years of experience in the legal field.
Her previous experiences also include serving as a judicial law clerk for Justice Bernette J. Johnson in the state Supreme Court as well as a litigator for The Hartford Insurance Company, a trial attorney for the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority, a staff attorney for the
Orleans Indigent Defender’s Program and an adjunct professor at Southern University at New Orleans.
Brown says she is running for the appeal court because she thinks it is a “natural progression” for a district judge to move to a higher seat and because she believes she is qualified for the post.
“I have a passion for the law,” she says. “My experiences span over 25 years. I clerked at both civil district court and Louisiana’s Supreme Court. I’m qualified for the job. I can start tomorrow and do a great job for the people of Orleans parish.
A former Tulane University Women’s basketball player, Brown says she is very competitive.
“I have never been reversed by the Supreme Court. I’m very competitive. I was a basketball player . . ., but I compete against myself because I like to get it right.”
Brown is also active in the community, serving as a board member of Louisiana Appleseed, a volunteer organization dedicated to addressing society’s tough problems with a focus on access to justice, opportunity and education; YWCA role model, and advisory board member for Louis Armstrong Family Service; and a mentor with the Tulane University Women’s Basketball Mentorship Program.”
Brown is especially proud of the work she does with an organization called I.N.S.P.I.R.E., which focuses on increasing youth academic performance by teaching reading skills.
“Most important is my work with the community,” says Brown. “I’ve planted seeds in this community. I give back.”
Brown is a member of the Louisiana Bar Association, the New Orleans Bar Association and a past executive board member of the Louis A. Martinet Society. Brown also serves on the Mass Incarceration, Re-Entry and Prison Reform Committee of the Judicial Council of the National Bar Association.
JUDGE TIFFANY CHASE
Tiffany Chase says her love for writing and researching the law makes her a perfect candidate for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal. Chase has 20 years of experience in the legal world, serving nearly 10 years as the judge in Civil District Court Judge, Division A.
Chase also served as a Louisiana Supreme Court judicial law clerk for seven years and was an attorney in private practice for three years.
A graduate of McDonogh 35 Senior High School, Chase earned her bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Loyola University and her law degree from Loyola University School of Law.
Chase says her strong work ethic, knowledge of the law and judicial temperament make her the right candidate to advance to the appeal court bench, adding that her work as a state Supreme Court judicial law clerk reviewing cases has provided her with appellate experience that would make her transition from district court to the appeal court easy.
Chase is most proud of her role in establishing the Self-Help Desk at Civil District Court, which has become a vital resource for civil court litigants, many of whom appear in court pro se or without an attorney.
“I’ve served New Orleans as a civil court judge for nearly a decade but I’ve served the community of New Orleans my whole life,” Chase says. “I’m proud to say I started Louisiana’s first self-help desk here. As a judge, we are not able to give legal advice. I Worked with state bar, lawyers and the civil justice program to create this help desk where it gives litigants access to forms and free legal advice because a lot of people don’t know how to navigate the system. The courts should be accessible to all people. This help desk has (assisted) over 10,000 people in Orleans parish. And now there are five help desks throughout Louisiana since 2010.”
Chase is a former member of the board of directors for the Carrollton/Hollygrove Senior Citizens Center, co-chair of the New Orleans Bar Association Bench Bar Conference and chair of the Louisiana Courts’ Security Committee among other leadership roles and honors.
CIVIL DISTRICT COURT, DIVISION B
Three candidates are vying to hold the civil district court seat left vacant by Judge Regina Bartholomew Woods’ election to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal last fall.
The new judge on the civil court bench will hear family law cases exclusively to assist with the domestic docket case load.
The candidates are Rachel Johnson, Suzy Montero and Marie Williams.
Rachel Johnson says she is running for the Civil District Court because she believes in the legal system and “wants to be a part of moving it forward”.
“But more than that, I believe in this community,” says Johnson, “and I love serving it. The perfect marriage of the legal system and community is service on the bench; so I want to offer myself as a public servant. Service is what we owe. It’s our rent that we pay while we are here. We need good judges, and I know that I will be a good one.”
Johnson is a 1998 graduate of Spelman College and 2005 graduate of Tulane University Law School. In between earning B.A. in psychology and her law degree, the candidate also earned a master’s degree in social work from the Smith College School for Social Work.
Her social work experience and background, Johnson says, uniquely qualifies her to assume the civil district court bench, as new judges are assigned the domestic docket.
“I am a clinically-trained social worker. I’ve worked for families and children on a variety of levels,” she says. “But at its core, a social worker knows people and knows the issues that they face on a daily basis. And at the end of the day, a judge is hearing the issues that people face on a daily basis.”
When the time comes to handle other types of civil cases, Johnson says she has the experience needed in those areas as well.
“I am in court all of the time,” the attorney says. “And I take a case from inception to resolution, whether it’s a trial or a settlement of mediation—so I have done all aspects of litigation.”
In addition to serving as a staff attorney for Hartford Insurance Company, handling over 450 insurance cases, and as an associate attorney for The Gary Firm in Stuart, Fla., where she handled more than 400 product liability cases, Johnson has served as a city attorney in Riviera Beach, Fla., and as a law clerk in Orleans Parish Civil District Court.
Johnson says she would have no problem transitioning from the advocacy role of an attorney to that of impartial jurist and has been an attorney for both defendants and plaintiffs in civil litigation. She is a member of the Louisiana State Bar Board of Governors, a member of the board of directors for the New Orleans Bar Association, a board member of the Pro Bono Project and previously served as president of the Greater New Orleans Louis A. Martinet Society.
A New Orleans native and graduate of McDonogh 35 High School, Johnson is the daughter of state Supreme Court Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson and the late Paul R. Johnson, Sr.
M. Suzanne “Suzy” Montero says she first considered a bid for civil judge about three or four years ago, but the timing was not quite right.
Recently, however, she wrapped up an important case and decided that the end of that chapter in her more than 24-year legal career signaled an opportunity to vie for the court.
A New Orleans native, Montero is a graduate of St. Martin’s Episcopal School, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and LSU Law School, where she graduated in 1991; and she has been in the private practice of law since then.
It’s her years and diversity of experience that make her the best choice for the Civil District Court bench, she says.
“I believe that having good judges on the bench is important for our citizens so they can have faith in the integrity of the court and the ability of the court system to address their disputes. And I think that for that to happen lawyers that have experience, good lawyers have to step up to serve.”
Montero first entered private practice at Sessions & Fishman shortly after earning her law degree. She then joined Martzell & Bickford, a firm co-founded in 1972 by her father, Wilson Montero. At Martzell & Bickford, she represented clients in commercial litigation, toxic tort, personal injury, and election challenges. In 2002, she joined the Law Office of Warren A. “Chip” Forstall, Jr., to represent clients in cases involving catastrophic injuries, as well as cases with complex issues of causation and liability. She has worked on more than 500 cases, she says, serving as first-chair counsel in jury trials in both state and federal courts.
Montero says she began her career handling family law cases.
“Over the last least 25 years, I’ve continued to do a lot of family law, even though my practice has moved to more (complex civil litigation),” Montero says. “This seat starts off in the domestic docket. I have handled every aspect, from custody to alimony to child support, community property partitions and other aspects of family law.”
The attorney says she gave significant consideration to moving from her role as client advocate to unbiased judged before deciding to run, and believes that while she has been a passionate advocate for her clients, years of observing good judges along with frequent participation in mediations have helped give her some of the insight needed to transition into the role of judge.
Montero is a member of Louisiana State Bar Association and Association of Women Attorneys, Louisiana Association of Justice, American Association of Justice, St. Thomas More Inns of Court, the Association of New Orleans Trial Lawyers, Forum for Equality, and HRC Federal Club. She has served as an adjunct professor in the Tulane University Law School Trial Advocacy Program teaching litigation skills.
Marie Williams says 21 years of legal experience and nearly 30 years of public service and community activism make her the right person for Civil District Court, Division B. Williams, who has run for judgeships in the past, is a graduate of McDonogh 35 Senior High School, Xavier University and Loyola School of Law.
“I am running for judge because I have the experience,” Williams says.
“First of all, you need experience, integrity and temperament. “My experience spans 21 years as a practicing attorney.”
Williams’ experience includes extensive work as a legal aid attorney, as well serving as a trial attorney with the Brigandi Law Firm, the Law Offices of Daniel E. Becnel and other law offices. The attorney has also been elected to the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee, serving to terms from 2008-2012 and 2012-2016. Williams was also appointed as an administrative law judge.
Williams says if elected she will ensure her court runs efficiently by holding attorneys to deadlines and limiting continuances in the cases she hears, adding that mounting continuances can result in a case not reaching a resolution for several years and a in children, families and individuals not getting the resolution or justice they deserve in a timely manner.
“There is no reason why a case should linger,” Williams says. “Set a date. If you need to conduct a custody evaluation, do it. Get it done. Everything needs to be set—no continuances. Don’t tell me you’re not ready.”
The attorney says she will also not have any issues with transitioning from her role as an advocate to judge.
“I’ve been on both sides,” she says. “I know what it is to represent someone and to be a client. I will be firm, but fair. You’re dealing with people’s lives. You have to have transparency and integrity and make rules not based on gender or wealth, but based on the facts of the case.”
Williams says her extensive community involvement proves her commitment to the people of New Orleans. She is a current of former member of a number of organizations, including League of Women Voters, Dress for Success Steering Committee, the Leadership Council and Moms Demand Action, among many others.
Editor’s Note: The New Orleans Tribune interviewed each of the candidates live on Facebook, where they shared the information found here and more. To watch the video interview, check us out on Facebook @theneworleanstribune. Like us! Follow us!