Newly elected judge Nicole Sheppard, Civil District Court Division J, has the common touch. In a relatively low budget campaign with few paid consultants, Sheppard coasted to a very comfortable victory over attorney Omar Mason by conducting an old-fashioned grassroots campaign in the churches and the streets.
“We definitely worked hard. The voters believed in me, my sincerity and my independence. They could feel my passion to serve the people,” Sheppard reflected yesterday. The CDC vacancy occurred due to the election of Judge Paula Brown to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal.
Sheppard, 43 and the married mother of three children, knew she wanted to be a lawyer by age four. At that time her mother, Celesia Perry Ferrand, was a fervent supporter of former mayor Dutch Morial and worked with several political organizations. “My mother gave me my foundation in politics,” she said. By age 16, Sheppard added being elected judge to her life goals. Though Ferrand died last year, Sheppard frequently thought of her throughout the campaign.
As a real estate researcher while attending law school, Sheppard saw inefficiencies in the Registrar of Mortgages office and qualified for that race in 2004. After rethinking her law school commitments, Sheppard quickly withdrew. In 2013, Sheppard also ran unsuccessfully for Orleans Parish Traffic Court.
Armed with degrees in criminal justice, law and communications, Sheppard eventually produced three cable television programs that focus on providing free, consumer-friendly information on legal, public safety and other topics which built her reputation. Also helpful was the pro-bono community work Sheppard undertook representing women and families who could not afford legal counsel, and her work in domestic and teen violence, HIV testing and warrant amnesty.
Sheppard was aided by the significant support she received from the faith based community including the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and the Baptist Preachers Conference. Other important endorsements included the Alliance for Good Government, the AFL-CIO, the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee, Women on the Move and the Algiers Political Action Committee in Sheppard’s home base of Algiers. State Senator Troy Carter and former City Council President Oliver Thomas — now a WBOK radio personality — were both trusted advisors.
Sheppard also ran strong in Mid City, Lakeview, Uptown and East New Orleans thanks to endorsements from the Lake Area Voters Association, the Crescent City Democrats, the Mid City Democrats, and the New Orleans East Leadership organization.
Money is usually tight in races where neither candidate has already served as an elected official. Sheppard loaned herself about $40,000 and raised approximately $60,000 from attorneys including Chip Forstall, Morris Bart, Bob Harvey, Ron Austin, Darleen Jacobs, Allen Berger, Brian Birdsall, Greg DiLeo former judicial candidate Doug Hammel and Dudley DeBosier, which recently relocated their offices to the Central Business District. She received almost no support from some of the city’s other upper crust law firms, however. Surely they will welcome an opportunity to meet the newest judge before her January 25 swearing in.
Sheppard will take over Judge Rachel Johnson’s domestic court docket until a new civil district court judge is elected in the spring of 2018 to replace Judge Tiffany Gauthier Chase, who recently won an appeals court seat.
On election night Sheppard was surrounded by her husband Jeron Williams, her children Adiana, Jihad and Lamont, and many members of the faith-based community.
“Throughout the years I have done a lot of work with local churches and senior centers,” Sheppard concluded. “The voters remembered. The Court is for the people and has to be of the people. I am so thankful for everyone’s support.”
Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Foster Campbell, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. Her current clients include District B City Council candidate Seth Bloom and At-Large City Council candidate Helena Moreno.