Johnson, Montero, and Williams campaign for open CDC judge seat
13th March 2017 · 0 Comments
By Christopher Tidmore
Of the two major Orleans Parish judicial contests on the ballot, the really fiery debate has emerged from the battle to replace Regina Bartholomew Woods on the Civil District Court, Division B seat.
A judicial contender disqualified from criminal court case less than a year ago (for failure to pay federal taxes) faces two formidable opponents – the daughter of the Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court and one of the foremost trial attorneys in the metro region.
It’s not surprising that Marie Williams, once a rising star who forced the venerable Frank Marullo into a runoff, has been little more than an asterisk in the contentious battle between Rachael Johnson and Suzy Montero. The negative press Williams received when she justified failure to file with the IRS for several years due, as she explained it, to having “left financial matters” to her ex-husband did not endear her to potential supporters.
Still, as recently as 2010, Williams was honored with the CityBusiness Leadership in Law Award for her legal professionalism and community service. She continues to be a player in local politics, holding a seat on the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee, making her a serious contender, regardless, in a three-person race.
Still, most of the attention has focused on the contentious battle between Rachael Johnson and Suzy Montero. A recent incident, which reportedly occurred at the Women of Excellence 30th anniversary conference hosted by Pastor Debra Morton, pastor of Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church, underlines the acrimony.
Sources close to Montero’s campaign said that Montero and her team arrived to participate when Johnson supporters in attendance complained to organizers about Montero’s strong support of – and sympathy for – LGBTQ issues, implying that Montero’s participation at a gathering hosted by a religious leader was inappropriate due to her personal views. After which, Montero’s campaign materials were reportedly removed from the chairs throughout the venue.
Of the 650 push cards and over 300 emery boards volunteers placed throughout the church, no more than 70 push cards were reportedly returned to the campaign.
At the time, Montero and her supporters chose to leave before the start of the conference.
When asked about the incident, Montero’s campaign said this to The Louisiana Weekly, “Suzy Montero met privately with Pastor Debra Morton who expressed regret over the chain of events. The campaign is moving forward and looking ahead to a victory on election day.”
Many of her supporters in the local pro-Gay Rights advocacy group Forum of Equality have loudly decried the incident. In fairness, Rachael Johnson noted in an interview with The Louisiana Weekly that she did not personally witness the incident. At that time, she was attending “a campaign event hosted in her honor in Uptown New Orleans.”
Montero went on to earn the Forum for Equity’s endorsement. The veteran attorney then won the backing of the Alliance for Good Government and the New Orleans Coalition as well. Perhaps it may be due to the fact that Montero bests both of her opponents in legal experience as a seasoned litigator with nearly 25 years experience in almost every state and federal court throughout South Louisiana.
Professing “thousands of courtroom hours practicing civil law, having tried both judge and jury trials in state and federal court,” Montero emphasized her commitment to “being fair and impartial as a judge, to moving her docket in a timely and orderly manner, and putting the needs of Orleans citizens first.”
Montero, an attorney with the Law Firm of W.A. Chip Forstall as well as an adjunct law professor at Tulane University, declared quite bluntly, “Orleans Parish deserves a judge committed to the needs of its people.”
Supporters of Rachael D. Johnson argue that she has shown that same motivation—ever since Johnson began her legal career as a former law clerk for City Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey back when Ramsey was a judge in Civil District Court.
Today, the daughter of Chief Justice Bernette Johnson is a Senior Staff Attorney with the Law Offices of Julie E. Vaicius which serves as staff counsel in Louisiana for Hartford Insurance and its subsidiaries. Prior to her current position, Rachael Johnson was an assistant City Attorney with the City of Riviera Beach, FL, where she advised the city and its various boards on a variety of matters. The 2005 graduate of Tulane Law School has earned the lion’s share of political endorsements, from Democratic legislators like Wesley Bishop and Joseph Bouie to Republicans like Cameron Henry and Kirk Talbot, along with Sheriff Gusman and most of the City Council.
Johnson also won the coveted backing of the AFL-CIO, leading her to say, “I am thrilled to have the support of this important organization. The AFL-CIO is the heart of the labor movement and does an outstanding job of representing the interests of working people at every level. It means a lot to me to know that the AFL-CIO believes me to be the best qualified candidate to serve the people of Orleans Parish as Judge for Civil District Court, Division B.”
Still, as Montero and Johnson fight for a primary victory on March 25, they battle for support of an electorate that is relatively unfamiliar with either. In that low-turnout election, Marie Williams believes she has an opportunity to edge between her opponents’ acrimony, and emerge as the winner of the open CDC seat in the April 29 runoff.
In Williams’ 21 years as an attorney, and 28 years as a community activist, she has developed something of a public profile. Her labors as a legal aid attorney doing public service work for low-income persons, disabled persons, and homeless individuals, fair housing, civil rights and Service Employees International Union Local 100 (SEIU) work, gives Williams a base her two judicial opponents lack – despite her personal tax problems.
Williams pledged “to be fair and unbiased,” and to provide “dignity and respect to every person with a matter before the court, regardless of whether that person can afford an attorney.”
Early voting ends March 17, with the primary election to fill the vacated CDC judgeship slated for March 25.
This article originally published in the March 13, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.