Danae Columbus: Appeals Court race will pit Martin Landrieu against two tough female judges

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Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

In an era when women are overwhelmingly winning judicial elections, can a man still be elected judge in Orleans Parish? Martin Landrieu certainly hopes so. The brother of Mayor Mitch Landrieu and retiring Division F Appeals Court Judge Madeleine whom he would like to replace, Landrieu is optimistic that voters will support him based on his qualifications. “Everyone stands on his or her own,” Landrieu said.

Currently 60% of our Civil District Court jurists are women. That percentage will increase after the March 25 election in which three women are vying to replace Judge Regina Bartholomew- Woods. Our Juvenile Court judges are 80% female. At Criminal District Court the bench is more evenly split with six male and six female district judges and Magistrate Judge Harry Cantrell tipping the scales.

At the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal, six female and six male judges currently sit. That percentage will change in the coming months as well due to several appeals court elections including one on March 25 where both candidates are women.

Judge Paul Bonin recently broke the “elect women” trend when he won a Criminal District Court seat. To his credit, Bonin was an extremely popular, experienced and well-financed candidate whose campaign was a well-oiled machine. Both his opponents were male.

Criminal Court Judge Robin Pittman was the first to announce for the appeals court seat. On the bench since 2009, Pittman says she is ready to move her career to the next level. “I plan to bring my strong work ethic and high level of efficiency to the appeals court,” Pittman said.

A New Orleans native who attended Mt. Carmel and Loyola, Pittman was a screener of narcotics, homicide and sex offenses cases under DA Harry Connick, worked with the Louisiana Disciplinary Counsel and as a civil lawyer with Baldwin Haspel Burke & Mayer.

Court Watch Nola called Pittman “a model of judicial demeanor” who provides transparency by putting all reasons for actions on the record. The Metropolitan Crime Commission rated her second most efficient jurist.

[Editor’s note: After the publication of this column, Court Watch NOLA offered the following clarification about the report cited in this column:

Court Watch NOLA from a 2013 report quoted various court watchers experiences in monitoring Judge Pittman. One court watcher stated that she “is a model of excellent judicial demeanor.” However, in the same report another court watcher responded that Pittman was “a bit caustic” and another court watcher found her to have “more sarcasm [than other judges].”

More recently, in Court Watch NOLA’s 2015 report, Pittman was the judge with the second largest number of off-the record discussions with attorneys held “outside [the] earshot of the jurors or spectators.” Court Watch NOLA regards these off record conversations as an indicator of transparency or lack thereof.]

Landrieu, who has practiced law for almost 30 years, said that numerous friends and colleagues suggested he run. “I can bring a wealth of legal knowledge and experience to the appellate bench,” he explained. Landrieu has periodically served ad-hoc as a juvenile court judge. He currently practices at Gordon, Arata, Montgomery, Barnett, McCollam, Duplantis & Eagan, LLC.

Judge Tracey Flemings – Davillier practiced law at Phelps Dunbar for fourteen years before her election to Juvenile Court where she rose to Deputy Chief Judge. In 2013 she was elected to the criminal court bench. “I love what I do as a public servant,” said Flemings- Davillier. “It’s the best of both worlds. I majored in Sociology, get to use it in the courtroom and continue to learn every day.”

Flemings-Davillier works behind the scenes to make the court system work efficiently. She chairs the court’s finance committee and is co-chair of the court’s new pretrial service, the court’s intervention services and the drug, mental health, domestic violence and monitoring court. Justice Bernette Johnson appointed Flemings-Davillier to the Louisiana Body Camera Task Force to help develop statewide policies and procedures regarding court operation, maintenance and safety.

Flemings-Davillier says she is passionate about young adults and trying to help them learn that the choices they make have consequences. She also works closely with the Awesome Girls mentoring group and speaks at many schools.

Flemings-Davillier will be feted tonight at a large fundraiser at the Magnolia Mansion which is headlined by Mayor Landrieu, DA Leon Cannizzaro, six members of the City Council, many legislators and a committee of almost 100 civic and business leaders. If tonight’s event is any indication of her community support, Flemings-Davillier is gearing up for an expensive, contentious race that could dissolve old coalitions and force new alliances in the ongoing struggle for power.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sontomayor believes there is a relationship between gender and judging and that often women judges come to the bench with advantages men lack. As a woman and a minority, Sontomayor explained that the “richness of her experiences” would more often than not help her “reach a better conclusion” than a man who hasn’t lived that life.

Perhaps the current rise in the number of women judges is based on the fact that fewer women than men went to law school in the 1970s and 1980s and were more prone to drop out of the legal practice temporarily to care for their families. Women students often are the majority in today’s law schools which will lead to a larger pool of qualified judicial candidates.

Aspiring to be a jurist is now a career about which every young New Orleans woman can realistically dream. Early voting for the two judicial races on the March 25 ballot continues through Saturday, March 18 at 6 p.m. with the election next Saturday, March 25. Early voting turnout so far has been low.


Promoter Matt Dillon and the Washington Square Park Foundation is hosting a tribute to Ray Charles featuring Davell Crawford and the Nola Big Band Tuesday, March 21 from 3 p.m. – 7 pm. at 700 Elysian Field Avenue. On April 4, the foundation will present a tribute to Al Jarreau featuring Chris Walker. Congrats to Matt and the Foundation for bringing new life to Washington Square Park.

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 work for 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 judicial candidates Suzanne Montero and Paula Brown.

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