Now she’ll get her day in court.
St. Landry Judge Alonzo Harris ruled Monday that Vanessa Waguespack Anseman lacked the required legal experience to run for the state’s second-highest court. Her appeal of that decision will be heard at 10 a.m. Monday at the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal in Lake Charles, the very court she hopes to join.
Anseman is vying for the seat vacated by former Appeal Court Judge Jimmy Genovese of St. Landry Parish, who won election to the Supreme Court in November. He vacated his Court of Appeal, Division B, seat and was sworn in to the Supreme Court on Jan. 3. Division B includes eight Acadiana parishes.
Anseman is joined by two other Republican competitors from Lafayette Parish for the March 25 election: Susan Theall, a former family court judge, and attorney Candyce Perret. If none of the candidates garner a majority of votes March 25, a runoff will be held April 29.
Harris said from the bench Monday that if Anseman’s appeal is unsuccessful, her votes would be voided, an ominous message for a candidate that was delivered during early voting week in Louisiana.
St. Landry Assistant District Attorney Donald Richard contended in Harris’ court Monday that even under the best case, Anseman fell 20 days shy of what he said was the required 10 years of eligibility to practice law required by the state. Anseman contends that she was admitted to the State Bar in 2003, and that the law does not require 10 years of actual practice but only a minimum of at least 10 years since her admission date.
She cites on her behalf a 2006 state constitutional amendment, approved by voters, that says candidates for the appeals bench should have been admitted to the bar at least 10 years before they can run. An interpretation of the amendment, published in 2006 by the Public Affairs Research Council, said, the amendment “would not require attorneys to practice law for … 10 years but simply to be admitted to the practice of law for that time.”
Anseman practiced law for just short of 10 years, leaving her firm in 2012 to care for her ailing father, who died the following year. She remained away from practicing law for a few more years to raise her young children.
Former State Rep. Hunter Greene, who wrote the law, said Wednesday the PAR interpretation was correct. He said the point of the amendment was to strengthen qualifications for judges — previously, appeals court candidates had only been required to have been admitted to practice law for five years.
The law “did not say you actually had to practice,” Greene said this week.
Totals for the first four days of early voting in Lafayette Parish, which opened March 11 and closes Saturday, show a tepid voter response to this and other, local races.
Only 152 voters cast ballots Saturday, the first day of early voting. On Monday, 115 voted; on Tuesday, 131; and on Wednesday, 135.
“That is very low,” said Charlene Meaux Menard, registrar of voters in Lafayette Parish. “That’s very slow for an important election.”
She said the parish election board projected a total of 10 percent of Lafayette’s roughly 150,000 voters would cast ballots by March 25, the General Election date.
Early Lafayette Parish ballots can be cast only at the Lafayette Parish Government Building downtown.
The Court of Appeal, Division B, includes eight Acadiana parishes, including Lafayette.
Other races include a City Council contest in the city of Scott, District 1, and the police chief race in Carencro. Voters in two western Lafayette Parish precincts, 27 and 71, can cast ballots in the state representative’s race in District 42.