Four candidates are vying to hold the civil district court seat that was officially left vacant by the death of Judge Clare Jupiter last May. Retired Judge Melvin Zeno, who spent 16 years on the bench in Jefferson Parish, has been serving in Division E since January when illness kept Judge Jupiter from her duties. On Nov. 6, however, Orleans Parish residents will elect someone to the seat.
The new judge on the civil court bench will hear family law cases exclusively to assist with the domestic docket case load until the next judge is elected to the bench. The candidates are Omar Mason, Richard Perque, Kenneth Plaisance and Marie Williams.
Repeated attempts to schedule interviews with Kenneth Plaisance and Marie Williams were unsuccessful.
“I am from New Orleans, born and raised,” says Mason “I have done everything from plaintiff’s work to defense work and I have served in various capacities in various organizations in my community. “I have been serving in the legal community for almost 19 years and I see an opportunity to serve in a legal capacity to reach more people. My legal acumen, my dedication to my community and my demeanor will make me a strong, fair judge.”
Mason describes himself as servant-leader. He has served as chair of the New Orleans chapter of the Federal Bar Association’s Philanthropy Committee and is the 2018 recipient of the FBA’s “Presidents Award” for community leadership.
“I want to make the court more user-friendly and approachable,” Mason says. “That’s something that I am really focused on—community education and engagement. I think that we have an excellent opportunity be role models in the community to get out there and get information out about civil district court so that it want be so daunting for folk—especially pro se litigants or those who appear without legal representation.
“One thing I pride myself on is my professionalism and ability to be even-keeled. Since I have started this campaign, some of my biggest supporters have been people I have gone up against. That’s a testament to my ability to be a professional and impartial jurist.
Being prompt and having a competent, well-trained staff will help keep his docket moving, Mason says.
“I also think the judge’s personal involvement in cases can help move them faster,” he says. I know a lot of things can be delegated; but when a judge comes in for a scheduling conference with a courtroom full of lawyers, they tend to move the ball real quick. There are a lot of things that can be done to get a courtroom docket moving. There’s no one magic bullet.”
While Orleans Parish Civil District Court has three courts assigned to domestic cases, only two of those courtrooms and the judges that preside in them—Divisions H and K—are permanently devoted to the domestic docket. The other judge tasked to hear family law cases is the most junior judge elected to the court. With retirements or elections to higher courts, turnover in CDC’s most junior division can be rapid. In fact, over the last 18 months three different courts have served as the rotating domestic law court—a reality that can create an inherent log jam each time the new junior judge takes over the docket.
“It’s a revolving door of judges. Since January 2017, we have five judges on this docket. It’s no fault of these judges,” Perque says. “It’s just that time is not on their side. That’s one of the main reasons I am running. I think we need to make some changes. I have examined the law, and I have spoken with some of the judges. And while, yes, what we do is this rotation, the most junior judge can elect to stay . And they can provide some continuity and resolution for families.
Perque, who serves as a member of the city’s Human Relations Committee and has been rated as a top lawyer by Louisiana Super Lawyers, says he will focus on helping to clear backlogged cases on the rotating family court docket by skipping rotation to the general docket when his turns comes—at least until he’s satisfied that some progress has been made, whether that’s six months or two years.
The attorney says he hopes to use mediation and other tools to help the docket to run smoothly
Perque, who owns his own law firm, says that many of his cases involve domestic law. That, coupled with his training and experience as a court-certified mediator will help him transition smoothly from an attorney who advocates for a client to serving as impartially presiding over the court.
I have sat as a mediator As a mediator I don’t have a dog in the hunt so it’s interesting to sit back and see the whole chess board. I have done that and I have had the training for it.