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St. John Voters eye next judge; election to replace Becnel Nov. 8

LAPLACE — An election challenge from Rob Snyder Jr. failed, according to the clerk of court’s office, leaving three familiar names in the race to become St. John the Baptist Parish’s next judge.

Nghana Lewis Gauff

Nghana Lewis Gauff

Clerk of Court Eliana Defrancesch said Snyder contested the residency of Nghana Lewis Gauff and Jeff Perilloux shortly after qualifying in July.

“It went up to the Court here, and they found there was no residency issues,” Defrancesch said. “(The challenge) was appealed and went to the 5th Circuit, and they affirmed the ruling of the Court, which (said) they did not have to be residents of the District, as long as they were residents of the Parish.”

Jeff Perilloux

Jeff Perilloux

Defrancesch said the appeal was also denied at the state Supreme Court level, leaving Gauff, Perilloux and Snyder vying for St. John District Judge, Division B.

The judge’s position opened after Mary Hotard Becnel announced she was stepping down as 40th Judicial District Court Division B Judge at the end of 2016, leaving open the door to local candidates looking to serve out the remainder of her term, which ends in 2021.

Rob Snyder Jr.

Rob Snyder Jr.

She is retiring, in part, to spend more time with her husband, Daniel Becnel Jr., who became ill late last year. Her last day as judge is Dec. 31.

The election is Nov. 8, and a runoff, if needed, is scheduled Dec. 10. Early voting for Nov. 8’s election is Oct. 25 though Nov. 1.

Gauff is a LaPlace attorney whose firm offers criminal, civil rights, employment discrimination, social security and other services. She listed a LaPlace address and no party affiliation during qualifying.

Gauff said she clerked for Judge Becnel in 2007, adding that experience and her subsequent work as a public defender and practicing lawyer in St. John Parish inspired her run for judge.

“I have a passion for the judicial system, for working in the judicial system and for teaching issues that relate to our system,” she said.

“A judge is supposed to only see what the law dictates. That is exactly what I would do when ruling from the bench.”

Gauff said all public officials have roles to play in fostering respect for people in the communities they serve.

“A judge’s obligation, when ruling from the bench, is to be fair, to follow the law and, certainly, to treat anyone who is standing before her with decency and with respect,” Gauff said.

If elected, Gauff said she would ensure other officers of the court are doing the same thing.

“As far as my role as a public servant, I certainly believe I have an obligation to my community, if elected, to ensure our community is fostering the kind of support to ensure every person is treated with decency,” she said. “That is something I am already doing as an officer of the court, as a lawyer and as a teacher.”

Perilloux said Becnel has done a fantastic job as judge and whoever is elected faces a challenge following her.

He points to his 23 years of practice in various areas of the law as the reason for his candidacy.

“I think when people compare the resumes, mine shines above the rest,” he said. “That’s not knocking the other two candidates, that’s a fact. This place is important to me. I am the only candidate in the race from the parish, originally. My kids go to school here.”

Perilloux said quality of life issues and concerns with crime are issues local residents are tired of.

“Some the things  are going on that, maybe, I would have a chance to step up and do what I can to make sure St. John is a great place to call home and raise a family,” he said.

“The judges play a very important role. Each case is supposed to be decided on its own merits. However, when you start dealing with repeat offenders in certain areas of criminal activity, you have the right to consider they are repeat offenders. I do think, as a judge, it is important that we maintain that level of commitment to ensure the decisions we make are not putting dangerous criminals back on the street on a routine basis.”

Perilloux has practiced law in St. John Parish since 1994, served as an assistant district attorney for 12 years and has served as legal counsel for St. John the Baptist Parish Government.

He listed a LaPlace P.O. box and no party affiliation during qualifying.

Snyder said his experience, integrity and judicial temperament make him the best candidate for judge.

“I had nearly a decade of law enforcement experience before I became an attorney,” he said. “I have over 16 years practicing as an attorney. My primary areas of practice are with what the 40th Judicial District Court has jurisdiction over, which is family law, wills, succession and criminal matters.”

As District 3 Justice of the Peace, Snyder said voters have already entrusted him with many Court duties.

“As District Judge, I will rule based only on the law and the evidence presented after all litigants have had their opportunity to have their day in court,” he said. “A judge should never say ahead of time how they would rule. They should be fair and impartial, because an independent judiciary is the cornerstone of our legal system.”

Snyder said he is capable of being stern, when necessary, for a violent offender who has been convicted.

“If you look at my qualifications, my experience, my integrity and my correct judicial temperament to give everybody a fair and impartial hearing with their day in court, I think that makes me the best candidate,” he said.

Snyder listed a Reserve P.O. box and Democrat party affiliation during qualifying.