DA suggests 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal candidate withdraw from race

DA Keith Stutes (Photo Credit: The Daily Advertiser File Photo)

(The Daily Advertiser) – Fifteenth Judicial District Attorney Keith Stutes suggested this week that one of three candidates for 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal should withdraw from the race, based on an objection to her qualifications and his preliminary investigation of it.

But Stutes cannot keep that candidate off the March 25 ballot and may face a long-shot effort, should he decide to make one, to remove her from that judicial position, should she be elected.

In a March 6 letter to Vanessa Waguespack Anseman, one of three candidates vying to replace Jimmy Genovese, Stutes cites cases he says are related to minimum qualifications for the seat and says, “… It would be entirely appropriate to respectfully request that you consider officially and immediately withdrawing from the upcoming election … .” The complaint against Anseman says she has not been admitted to practice law long enough to meet the benchmarks for the Court of Appeal position.

But Thursday, Stutes said he had not completed his research into the complaint — he would not name the person who complained — and said that some legal questions about the situation remain. He said he would likely complete his research and make a decision whether to contest her election, should she win, within a week.

The Daily Advertiser has filed a Freedom of Information request for the name of the person who made the complaint.

Genovese sought and won election Nov. 8 to the state Supreme Court, narrowly defeating Judge Marilyn Castle; the winner of this election will serve the last eight years of the Court of Appeal term Genovese won in 2014.

Attorneys Susan Theall and Candyce Perret, both of Lafayette, are also seeking the open seat.

Meg Casper Sunstrom, spokesman for the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office, said Anseman’s candidacy itself cannot be challenged. Complaints about her candidacy should have been made by Jan. 20, a week after qualifying ended.

Sunstrom said early ballots for the March 25 election have been sent out, voting machines have been programmed for early voting and Election Day voting involves a printed ballot.

But Sunstrom said election results can be challenged. Only a judge can render the final decision, she said.

District Attorney Earl Taylor of St. Landry Parish has filed suit this week, Anseman’s campaign consultant, Roy Fletcher confirmed, although he suggested the issue might be moot if Anseman were elected.

Anseman said the person who complained is misreading the law that governs qualifications for court candidates and said the state Constitution mandates that Court of Appeal candidates can run 10 years after they are admitted to practice law. Anseman was admitted to practice law Oct. 10, 2003.

The complaint says that Anseman, who stopped practicing in 2012 to care for her ailing father, allowed her law license to lapse a few months shy of 10 years as a practicing lawyer. She said she did not keep her license up because she was not practicing. After her father’s death, she devoted herself to raising her young family, she said.

The state Supreme Court said she was reinstated to the practice of law Jan. 13.

Anseman contends the Louisiana Legislature and Louisiana voters amended the minimum qualification requirements for Louisiana judges in a 2006 election, mandating that candidates for the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal be “admitted to the practice of law for at least 10 years prior to the election.” The Public Affairs Research Council, which explained the proposed amendment to voters at that time, said “the proposal would not require attorneys to practice law for … 10 years but simply to be admitted to the practice of law for that time.”

Anseman said Stutes’ letter to her uses cases involving attorneys who had been suspended from the practice of law; she has never been suspended from practicing law, she said, and was weeks removed from becoming a partner in her firm when her father’s illness compelled her to stop practicing law.

Paul R. Baier, the Judge Henry A. Politz professor of law at LSU Law Center, said Thursday “there is nothing in the state Constitution” that would disqualify Anseman from the race. He said there is an “absence of clarity” in the Constitution on the matter.

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