Jul 212016
Paul Bonin shares a chuckle after qualifying to run for Criminal District Court. (photo by Danae Columbus for UptownMessenger.com)

Paul Bonin shares a chuckle after qualifying to run for Criminal District Court. (photo by Danae Columbus for UptownMessenger.com)

Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus

Political insiders are shaking their heads this week as to why Paul Bonin, a widely-popular 4th Circuit Court of Appeals judge who has more than five years remaining on his current term, would decide to run for a lower-paying judgeship in the rough-and-tumble Criminal District Court.

“It was a big decision,” said Bonin, 62, just after qualifying yesterday to replace retired judge Frank Marullo. “But I thought my talents could be best put to use in Criminal Court. I thought I could make a contribution.” Bonin has been serving in the judiciary almost 20 years including stints as an ad hoc judge in Civil District Court, then elected to Traffic Court and later to the Court of Appeals where he ran unopposed in the last election.

Bonin has always been a gregarious, bigger than life figure willing to share his time and talents. The Appeals Court may have been a little too quiet for him. “I want to get back to where the people are. I have a lot to give.” Bonin made one telling comparison between the appeals court and criminal court. “Criminal Court judges are tasked with making a quick decision on cases. At the Appeals Court of Appeals, we can take months to decide if the lower court judge made the right decision.” Bonin and the other fourth circuit judges also have the benefit of highly trained legal staff to research and write decisions, which Bonin might miss at Criminal Court.

Bonin also has taught criminal justice at Southern University and was the first judge to use ankle bracelet technology to detect alcohol use by underage and repeat DWI offenders.

Assistant DA Dennis Moore also qualified for the seat yesterday along with former candidate Marie Williams. Robert Jenkins has expressed interest in the race as well. All bets are currently on Bonin to win outright in the Nov. 8 primary. Bonin did not have to resign from the Appeals Court to make this run.

In the race to replace retiring Judge Max Tobias, Civil District Court Judge Regina Bartholomew-Woods and Criminal Court Judge Laurie White quickly made the trip to Baton Rouge to qualify in what will surely be an expensive, contentious battle between two strong women. But there has been no word yet from CDC Judge Tiffany Chase who has been campaigning for the slot.

Chase could be considering if she would rather take a chance that Bonin’s seat becomes vacant and run for it in an off election next year. Chase has until Friday at 4 p.m. to decide. Criminal Court Judge Darryl Derbigny who also was looking at the race was heard to comment that he would instead “sit back and watch.”

Several judges serving in Municipal, First City, and Civil District Court also qualified for re-election yesterday including Desiree Charbonnet, Veronica Henry, Angelique Reed and Monique Morial. All are popular and should be re-elected.

Congressman Cedric Richmond should also have an easy contest against Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden for the 2nd Congressional District race. Though the district stretches from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, 40 percent of the voters are in Orleans Parish.

School Board candidate Ethan Ashley files to run on Wednesday, the first day of qualifying. (photo by Danae Columbus for UptownMessenger.com)

School Board candidate Ethan Ashley files to run on Wednesday, the first day of qualifying. (photo by Danae Columbus for UptownMessenger.com)

The races Orleans Parish voters should really focus on are for the Orleans Parish School Board seats. Woody Koppel was the first candidate to qualify yesterday and said he was seeking his third term. Koppel could be opposed by respected pastor and social work Rev. Pat Watson, another strong woman. Charter school operator Ben Kleban hopes to sail into Seth Bloom’s vacant seat but could be opposed by the civil rights and democratic political activist Avis Brock whose grandfather was the iconic Rev. Avery Alexander.

In Mid-City/Lakeview, Sarah Usdin who looked like a shoe-in for re-election could be challenged by Brett Bonin, whom Usdin beat four years ago.

Former OPSB president Nolan Marshall could have two challengers including McDonogh 35 math teacher Kwame Smith and another grassroots activist. At this time it does not appear that OPSB members John Brown or Leslie Ellison will face competition.

Longtime educator and OPSB member Cynthia Cade, currently the board’s vice president, qualified for the Gentilly/New Orleans East seat and will face a young Urban League staffer Ethan Ashley. Cade, a tenacious campaigner, won’t have a lot of money but she is well-known in the district especially among older and chronic voters. Ashley — like Koppel, Usdin, Marshall and Kleban — will be supported by the pro-reform political action committees.

The return of the RSD schools to the OPSB is really a rubber-stamped RSD takeover of our public school system. It’s highly likely that RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard or one of his associates could become the next OPSB Superintendent. While the teachers union in Jefferson Parish was very active financially in their recent elections, UTNO, the local union, seems hamstrung. Without strong funding, several of these challengers will not be able to successfully compete.

Qualifying continues through Friday afternoon at Arthur Morrell’s office in the Criminal District Court building. Candidates must bring cash or certified checks to complete their applications.


UNO president John Nicklow told an attentive audience earlier this morning that more than half of New Orleans public school graduates are currently not eligible to attend UNO because they do not meet the state’s admission standards – i.e. their ACT scores are too low. “Every student in our state should have access to a higher education,” said Nicklow. He wants to work with the state to revisit admission criteria to take into account factors beyond traditions testing scores. Yet, at the same time, Nicklow said that admitting students who do not have the capacity to graduate is “not a good investment.”

UNO enrollment has fallen 50 percent in recent years and retention is currently pegged at 62 percent for freshmen and sophomore students. Nicklow said UNO has lost $40 million in state support since 2008 and that currently 90 percent of students come from Orleans and Jefferson Parishes. He is rebranding the university and intends to expand recruitment to 12,000 students. UNO once enjoyed a student enrollment of 17,000. Most UNO students stay in New Orleans after graduation.


Chief Juvenile Court Judge Candace Bates Anderson will hold a fundraiser tonight at 2404 St. Bernard Avenue beginning at 5:30 p.m. Judge Anderson is considered a caring jurist deeply committed to serving the youth of our community.

Danae Columbus has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by her public relations firm are City council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.

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