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Hilary Landry runs for 24th Jefferson District judgeship

11th March 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

It’s not uncommon to see Hilary Landry on the streets of Jefferson Parish at five o’clock in the morning.

That the mother of three – who as one of the youngest graduates of Loyola law school ranking near the top of her class, and has never worked less than a 60-hour week, while also managing to become an accomplished concert pianist – still has the commitment to jog the asphalt at dawn, surprises many when they learn that about the seasoned Jefferson Parish prosecutor.

It’s these early morning runs, in the quiet of the dawn, that Landry says gave her the motivation to run for the 24th JDC. “I simply could not think of a better way to serve my community than through my profession and becoming a productive member of the judiciary,” she explained.

“I am a lawyer because I enjoy helping others resolve their differences through the law. I can do so much more for people as Judge,” Landry admitted when asked why she stood as a judicial candidate. “My legal training and experience have prepared me for the State’s judiciary. I’m an honors graduate of Loyola Law School who speaks three languages. It’s not only important to know the letter of the law but the language of litigants.”

“I’ve practiced as both a sole practitioner and with high-powered law firms. I’ve handled family law, complex corporate law and civil litigation, class action suits and business transactional law. I’ve clerked for State District Court and Appellate Court Judges and drafted hundreds of complex judicial decisions. Most recently, I’ve served as a felony prosecutor in four divisions of the 24th JDC running Jefferson Parish’s Drug Court. Our success has become a template Governor Jindal wants to copy across Louisiana.”

In fact, Landry is particularly passionate on that final subject. “Jefferson Parish has one of the top drug court programs in the nation and Governor Jindal has cited the program I administered as a model to be used by parishes all across Louisiana. Indicative of the success of the drug court that I have prosecuted for the past four years, violent crime is down 32 percent in Jefferson Parish and at its lowest rate since 1974.”

That does not mean that Landry believes the 24 JDC always works perfectly. “According to the Louisiana Supreme Court, 20,058 cases were filed in the 24th JDC in 2011 with only 135 trials. Clearly, the “continued” stamp is being overused – causing anxiety for litigants, victims, and witnesses. As judge, I pledge to come to court every day prepared and will expect attorneys to do the same.”

The judgeship for which Landry stands on the Saturday, April 6, 2013, is elected by East Bank Jeffersonians inhabiting Harahan and Metairie, with a few precincts in Kenner. That’s part of the problem. The Registrar of Voters fears very low turnout as most of the lakefront precincts of Division D already went to the polls on March 2.

Much of the Kenner and Metairie electorate already turned out for the state representative race that sent Julie Stokes to Baton Rouge to succeed the retiring Tony Ligi. Hence Landry’s challenge in getting out her vote. The 24th JDC candidate has had to confront voters who believe that this spring’s election day has already passed. As she recollected, “I walked [neighborhoods campaigning] last Sat­urday. People would open the door, and say, ‘I’m voting, okay!’, and I would have to tell them, ‘I’m sorry; It’s next month for me,” Landry said laughingly.

“We have too many election days,” the candidate observed. Of course, as a judge, Landry can do little to change that practice. What she pledges to accomplish if elected to the District bench, however, is threefold. Her platform promises to “Follow the law without ever legislating from the bench; Be professional and courteous to all who use the court; [and] Ensure the quick and efficient resolution of all docket matters with an emphasis on professionalism, with pre-trial conferences, scheduling orders, and extensive preparation in advance of all hearings and trials.”

On the second platform plank, Landry makes the point that a judge must “Understand the difference between a career criminal and someone who made a mistake; Set extended hours for those who can’t afford to miss work; and Make information readily available for accelerated justice.”

Only then can they meet her standards of professionalism on the bench. Some say the myriad of demands upon a Jefferson Judge makes that task impossible. Unlike Orleans, Jefferson (and most parishes) do not divide their judicial systems. The 24th JDC judges hear cases on both a civil and criminal docket, and some argue that one area of the law suffers for the other—based on the background and interests of the particular individual sitting upon the bench.

Landry disagreed. “All 42 judicial district courts hear both civil and criminal cases. Orleans is the only parish in Louisiana with separate civil and criminal courts. This is in part because of the population size.”

In other words, Orleans, as the corporate capital of Louisiana hears the lion-share of civil cases. That is untrue in Jefferson, even though there are more people that live in the suburban parish than in Orleans. “While I understand proponents of a divided court believe the separation helps judges develop a concentrated knowledge in either civil or criminal code procedure, the fact of the matter is the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Code of Civil Procedure are under constant revision by the legislature, requiring judges to avail themselves of continuing education to keep current. I’m very comfortable with the 24th JDC hearing both civil and criminal cases. My vast experience in civil litigation and experience as a felony prosecutor is well suited for this court.”

There is one exception in Landry’s view. “If there is any need for separation in the 24th JDC, I believe it’s to create a Family Court. I would enthusiastically support the Legislature creating a Family Court within the 24th JDC to bring the requisite expertise and sensitivity to family issues.”

As for where the 24th JDC candidate stands on three-strikes laws, she explained, “Texas was the first state to enact a three-strikes law. Louisiana followed suit in 1994. By 2004, By 2004, 26 states and the federal government had laws that satisfy the general criteria for designation as ‘three-strikes’ statutes — namely, that a third felony conviction brings a sentence of life in prison, with no parole possible until a long period of time, most commonly twenty-five years, has been served. Now, with the highest incarceration rate in the nation, Louisiana officials are rethinking the approach. As a judge, the law must dictate the decision.”

Landry expressed a more negatively vocal opinion on mandatory minimum sentencing laws.” I believe judges need flexibility when it comes to sentencing non-violent criminals. Louisiana has recently given prosecutors and judges sentencing discretion for some crimes that normally carry mandatory minimum penalties and will allow early release for some non-violent offenders sentenced to life without parole.”

“Prominent conservatives, such as former Attorney General Edwin Meese, have spoken out in favor of reform, including eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenses. In light of the crisis of prison overcrowding that is keeping violent repeat offenders on the street and in our neighborhoods, I don’t see where we have any alternative but to reform mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines.”

When asked what rights victims have in facing their attackers Landry replied, “My view is irrelevant. As judge I must uphold the law on the books and Louisiana has strong ‘Castle Doctrine’ laws. Victims can use deadly force, with no duty to retreat, when there is imminent danger of losing life or they are in great bodily harm and deadly force is necessary to prevent danger.”

As for supporting the death penalty, she stated, “As judge, I must take an oath of office to uphold the Constitution and the Louisiana Constitution provides for a death penalty. If a death sentence is imposed by a jury, I must follow the law.”

This article originally published in the March 11, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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