Former La. AG says Johnson entitled to be SC's next chief justice

Jessica M. Karmasek Aug. 16, 2012, 11:20am



NEW ORLEANS (Legal Newsline) - Former Louisiana Attorney General Richard P. Ieyoub, in a federal court filing this week, argues that state Supreme Court Justice Bernette Johnson is entitled to become the high court's next chief justice based on her seniority.

Ieyoub, who currently practices with Baton Rouge firm Hymel, Davis and Peterson, served as the state's top lawyer from 1992 to 2004.

When he assumed office in 1992, the litigation at issue -- Chisom v. Roemer -- was ongoing.

Soon after, Ieyoub began the process of trying to reach a settlement in the matter.

In a two-page declaration, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana Wednesday, he explains that an "essential" part of that settlement was the creation of an eighth justice of the state Supreme Court to be elected from Orleans Parish.

"This part of the settlement was crucial because it gave immediate relief to the Orleans Parish African-American voters whose voting strength was being diluted," he wrote.

"This eighth justice seat (commonly referred to as the Chisom seat) gave this underrepresented group an immediate presence on the Supreme Court until the Supreme Court districts could be redrawn at a later time."

Johnson, who was elected as the Chisom judge in 1994 and was reelected as a permanent justice in 2000 and 2010, argues in the federal lawsuit she is next in line for the job of chief justice.

Meanwhile, fellow Justice Jeffrey Victory argues he has the right to succeed Chief Justice Catherine "Kitty" Kimball, who announced in April that she is retiring from the Court in January 2013.

Victory, who joined the Court a year after Johnson, argues that he is senior to Johnson because her years as a Chisom judge do not count toward her seniority.

"It was important that the judgeship created by the Chisom consent judgment be equal in all respects to the other judgeships, including the accumulation of seniority," Ieyoub noted in his declaration.

"We reasoned that it would be disingenuous to settle a case alleging dilution of minority voting strength by creating a judgeship that was inferior or diluted in any way."

The former attorney general said the settlement did not intend to exclude seniority as an emolument of office.

"We intended the holder of that judgeship to accrue seniority while serving on the Supreme Court in the exact same manner as every other judgeship on the Supreme Court," he wrote.

In her lawsuit filed in July, Johnson has requested that the federal court enforce its consent judgment in Chisom.

Under Louisiana law, the chief justice position shall be filled by the longest-serving justice on the Court.

Judge Susie Morgan is handling the case.

In a one-page order filed Thursday, the judge granted the city of New Orleans' motion for leave to file an amicus brief in the case.

In its brief, also filed Thursday, the city asks that the court recognize Johnson's tenure as a Chisom judge and count it as years of service on the state's high court in an effort to "protect the citizens of this parish and city and to prevent the dilution of their voting strength."

"If Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson's Chisom service is not counted towards her point of service pursuant to Louisiana Constitution Article V, Section 6 to permit her to succeed as the next chief justice, then Justice Johnson's participation on the Louisiana Supreme Court pursuant to the consent judgment would not have been 'equal' during this period of assignment," it wrote in its three-page brief.

"This is what is due our citizens, and this is what the terms of the consent judgment mandate."

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