Judicial Surprise – Significant development ignored by media

By Lou Gehrig Burnett

Senior Political Columnist

There has been a significant development in judicial circles in our part of the state which has been virtually ignored by the local mainstream media. Why? I don’t know. But here is what has happened.

Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Jeff Victory, who was facing re-election for a third 10-year term on the state’s high court in 2014, was going to run — so everyone thought. But months ago, Caddo District Judge Scott Crichton of Shreveport announced he was going to seek the Supreme Court seat and oppose Victory. To do so, he was giving up a safe district court seat because all district court judges face re-election at the same time the Supreme Court race is on the ballot.

Crichton, who has been on the district court bench for 23 years, made his decision because of a provision in the Louisiana Constitution that says no one can run for judge if he or she is 70 years or older. Crichton could not wait for another 10 years to pass because by the time the Supreme Court election rolled around in 2020, he would be unable to run because he would be past 70 years of age.

After Crichton declared his candidacy, Victory announced that he would run for a third term. But on July 30, I broke the story in my Fax-Net Update, which made statewide news, that Victory had decided to retire. Victory has not made a public statement to that effect, but I based my exclusive on reliable sources with whom Victory or his wife had spoken.

The news of Victory’s retirement caught many politicos by surprise. He has served on the Supreme Court for what will be 20 years and has a total of 33 years of judicial service, having served on the Caddo District Court and the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal before being elected to the state’s high court. To be sure, if anyone ever earned a retirement, Victory has, and our area will certainly give him plaudits for his exemplary service.

Victory’s retirement left Crichton without an opponent for the judicial plum. After all, the Louisiana Supreme Court is to the state what the U.S. Supreme Court is to the nation. Most judges dream of one day serving on the state Supreme Court. So the rumor mill went into high gear, saying that Judge Jay Caraway of Bossier City, who is on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal, was considering the state Supreme Court race. Caraway is serving his second 10-year term on the Court of Appeal.

But, once again, my Fax-Net was able to publish an exclusive. After talking with Caraway, he revealed to me that he had decided not to run. “I enjoy my present job on the Court of Appeal, and I plan to stay there. I wish Scott the best of luck,” he said. Other sources reported that no one on the Caddo District Court or the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal was interested in opposing Crichton.

So, one again, Crichton remained the lone candidate for the District 2 seat on the seven-member Louisiana Supreme Court. The 2nd District is comprised of the following parishes: Caddo, Bossier, Webster, DeSoto, Red River, Sabine, Natchitoches, Vernon, Beauregard, Allen, and Evangeline. Any sitting judge, district attorney or assistant district attorney can be a candidate for the Supreme Court, as can any attorney who has practiced law for at least 10 years.

Politicos believe that it would be extremely rare for someone to go unopposed for an open seat on the state Supreme Court, so the rumor mill shifted gears and was saying that District Judge Stephen Beasley of Sabine Parish was going to run. Beasley had run against Victory in 2004 and received 39 percent of the vote. So that was my cue to call Judge Beasley to see if he was interested in the race.

Beasley told me he is not going to run for the Supreme Court and would seek re-election to the Sabine Parish District Court. He noted that he is the lone judge in the parish, and he likes that responsibility. He also ws well aware that 58 percent of the registered voters in the judicial district reside in Caddo and Bossier parishes. And that reality presented a huge challenge to anyone from outside of those two parishes to mount a viable campaign against Crichton.

After I revealed that information, the rumor mill has been quiet, and no other potential candidates are being mentioned. To his credit, the popular Crichton has exhibited a brilliant campaign strategy, which has put him in great shape to win the coveted Supreme Court seat. He announced early and has been holding fundraisers, attended by overflow crowds, as well as lining up support from judges, attorneys, and elected officials.

But don’t expect Crichton to let up. He remains in full campaign mode and is traveling the district to shore up support in the rural parishes. In other words, he continues to run as though he has an opponent. There is nothing more uncertain than political elections, and there is still a long way to go in this one. Qualifying is not until August 20-22, 2014. The election is scheduled for November 4, 2014.