BY Heidi R. Kinchen
Florida Parishes bureau
February 28, 2013
State District Judge Ernest G. “Ernie” Drake Jr. gained election Wednesday to a seat on the Louisiana 1st Circuit Court of Appeal after his only rival withdrew from the race.
Denham Springs Marshal Jerry Denton filed a Notice of Withdrawal with the Secretary of State’s Office on Wednesday, officially ending his campaign for the appellate court’s District 3, Division C seat.
Both men qualified with the Secretary of State’s Office to run in the April 6 primary election for the 1st Circuit Court judgeship vacated by Judge Jeff Hughes’ Dec. 8 election to the Louisiana Supreme Court.
The 1st Circuit Court of Appeal encompasses 16 parishes, seven of which are represented by the District 3, Division C judgeship: East Feliciana, Livingston, St. Helena, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Washington and West Feliciana.
Drake, a sitting judge on the 21st Judicial District Court bench, will be commissioned Thursday and take his oath of office for the appellate court seat within 30 days, said Meg Casper, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office.
Denton said his withdrawal from the race was the result of a short election cycle and its demands on both time and resources.
“I have been very fortunate to gain the support of many people across the seven parishes in this district, and I still believe I would do an excellent job representing this district,” Denton said in a statement released Wednesday through spokeswoman Delia Taylor.
“However, I have not been able to attain the large sums of money in this short election cycle that is needed. Also, the time constraints in this short election cycle would make it difficult for me to simultaneously do my job as marshal,” he said.
Denton’s candidacy had been challenged in 21st Judicial District Court by Amite lawyer Charles “Boo” Christmas.
Christmas filed suit under a provision of state law that allows any registered voter to challenge the qualifications of a candidate in a race for which the person may vote.
Christmas alleged in his lawsuit that Denton failed to disclose to the Louisiana Supreme Court more than $261,000 in federal tax liens.
All judges and candidates for elective judicial office are required by state law to file a personal financial statement with the Supreme Court disclosing, among other things, any debt exceeding $10,000.
Although there are exceptions, none include debts owed to the Internal Revenue Service.
Christmas also said that, in qualifying for the appellate court race, Denton was required to certify that he had filed his state and federal tax returns for the past five years, but that Denton failed to certify that he filed a state tax return in 2008.
Denton said Wednesday that he believes he successfully met all requirements to be a judicial candidate.
“After reviewing documentation provided to my attorney by Mr. Denton, I am satisfied that Mr. Denton has, in fact, filed his state and federal returns for the last five years,” Christmas said Wednesday. “I am also satisfied that Mr. Denton is a qualified candidate in this election for the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal.
“Quite frankly, if my suit were to go forward on the merits, in all likelihood I would not prevail,” Christmas said.
Denton said Wednesday that the lawsuit issue had lingered for several days longer than expected and hindered his ability to fulfill his duties as marshal, a position he intends to maintain.
“I am very happy with my decision to continue serving in that capacity, and I look forward to continue doing my best to improve that office and its service to my community,” Denton said.
Drake’s move to the appellate court will leave a vacancy on the bench of the 21st Judicial District, which serves Livingston, Tangipahoa and St. Helena parishes.
The Louisiana Supreme Court will appoint a judge to fill that seat temporarily, pending a special election in October for Drake’s unexpired term, Chief Judge Bob Morrison said.
Following the expiration of that term at the end of 2014, court officials hope to convert the seat to a family court division, he said.
The court currently has no family court divisions, but legislation has been enacted to convert another division — that of Judge Zoey Waguespack, who will retire in 2014 — to a family court division, Morrison said.
The plan is to do the same with Drake’s division, which will leave the court with six general divisions for hearing criminal and nonfamily civil cases, he said.