Fifth Circuit candidates share election platforms

Published 6:48 am Wednesday, September 30, 2020

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VACHERIE — Jude Gravois, Sharrolyn Jackson Miles and Rob Snyder Jr. are candidates for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal, Second Dist., Div. A seat, which covers the East Bank of St. John the Baptist Parish and all of St. James Parish.

Every person has a Constitutional right to appeal a decision rendered at the trial court level. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal, also known as an appellate court, is an important step in the judicial process in which three judges work together to issue a written judgment that either upholds or reverses the lower court decision.

Each of the three candidates for the Div. A seat shared their passion and plans for the position to help the public make an informed decision during the Nov. 3 election.

Sharrolyn Jackson Miles champions attention to detail

Sharrolyn Jackson Miles

Sharrolyn Jackson Miles has a passion for the academic and intellectual aspects of the appellate court.

Miles has been a skilled writer for her entire life, and she got an early exposure to the field of law when her father attended law school. Her father would record his class lectures and they would listen to them while riding together in the car. By the time she arrived at law school, the coursework was familiar and the career felt like a calling.

Miles is a 16-year attorney with experience ranging from personal injury to family court, misdemeanor matters and small business clients. She has been employed as a senior law clerk and research attorney for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal, and she most recently served as the lead juvenile court prosecutor for St. John District Attorney Bridget A. Dinvaut. Her portfolio also includes experience as a code enforcement hearing officer in St. John.

Miles said she is well suited for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal because the role is writing intensive, research intensive and founded in legal analysis. Miles said her diverse set of life experiences has also prepared her to become a judge at the appellate level.

“The Circuit Court operates a lot like juries,” Miles said. “It’s not just one judge looking at it. We all try to be fair. You want people who can come to the table, and being on both sides of the issue has qualified me to be a unique voice.”

Miles brings the perspective of a mother in the legal field, and she has the life experiences to understand both sides of many issues.

She said every case must be looked at thoroughly to render fair and impartial judgments.

“You need to pay attention to detail and look at every case, regardless of which ones have more publicity or if the same issues are popping up over and over again,” Miles said. “I am passionate about looking at every single case, whether the person is poor, whether they are wealthy, whether or not they can afford a lawyer, and even if it’s something that we’ve seen a lot.”

Miles said attention to detail became a public concern in the Fifth Circuit 13 years ago. In 2007, the chief of central staff at the Fifth Circuit committed suicide and left a note expressing anguish at major due process concerns, namely in rulings that were signed by judges without judges actually reviewing the cases.

“I think there needs to be more transparency, more accountability in how things are handled,” Miles said.

If elected, she also hopes to increase community involvement and create opportunities for children to succeed.

“A lot of the time passion is lacking in this position because it is a 10-year seat. Judges tend to get complacent, but I know how I am. I know the passion I’ve brought to every job I’ve had,” Miles said.

Rob Snyder Jr. aspires to be judicial watchdog

Rob Snyder Jr.

Rob Snyder Jr. wants to be a judicial watchdog that upholds citizens’ Constitutional rights to equal access to the Court of Appeal, free from threats and sanctions.

Snyder felt that incumbent Judge Jude Gravois mistreated him when the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal attempted to sanction him for asking a legal question involving a candidacy challenge. Judge Madeline Jasmine had previously been disqualified for not living in the proper voting sub-circuit.

“When I ran against Jeff Perilloux, he did not live in the voting sub-circuit, so I asked whether or not that was legal. The judges attempted to sanction me for asking a very legitimate question,” Snyder said. “The Louisiana Supreme Court had to get involved to stop them because the sanctions were improper. It was really a bad feeling to know you are a litigant and to be mistreated that way by judges on the Court of Appeal. I’ll be watchdog, and I will report those judges if I find judicial misconduct.”

Snyder also wants to put provisions in place to increase accountability at the appellate level.

“When you go into the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal, you go into a courtroom and they take your telephone. There’s no court reporter, there’s no record of oral arguments, and the judges are free to say anything and everything without any judicial oversight,” Snyder said.

Snyder noted that he has seen judges address litigants with sass and disrespect.

“That’s something I would like to see change,” he said. “I want hearings to be reported so the judiciary committee could have judicial oversight. If something is going on that is improper, it could be dealt with expeditiously.”

Snyder has 30 years of judicial, legal and law enforcement experience. He currently maintains a law office in Gramercy and a Justice of the Peace office in Reserve. If elected, Snyder would maintain office space in both St. James and St. John parishes. However, he has pledged to move the Court of Appeal sub-circuit office from Vacherie back to LaPlace, where a majority of the population lives.

Snyder also addressed the rumor that he would fire the current staff if elected to the Court of Appeal.

“That is a lie,” he said.

Snyder emphasized his commitment to act in the correct judicial temperament and give every case a fair and impartial ruling without the appearance of bias or impropriety. He will treat everyone fairly, whether they are a lawyer or self-represented.

Snyder plans to utilize Zoom conferencing and other technologies allowing the court to operate more efficiently.

“I have practice in every part of the legal system that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal could possibly have an appeal come up with. I will rule only based upon the law and the evidence in the record, like the Court of Appeal is supposed to,” Snyder said. “I’m the only candidate that has a judicial office in St. John Parish. I live in and I’m domiciled in St. John Parish, and I’m elected in St. John Parish. I have the energy. I won’t meet the mandatory retirement age within the first three years of a 10-year term, and I’ll be able to serve for the next two decades if the voters so allow me and so choose me to be their Court of Appeal judge.”

Incumbent Jude Gravois brings decades of experience to role

Jude Gravois

In 11 years as a judge at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal, Jude Gravois has handled more than 3,250 appellate matters and has authored more than 350 appellate opinions and 700 writ dispositions.

Gravois said experience is what sets him apart in the upcoming election. He has a very clear understanding of appellate responsibilities. In addition to his appellate tenure, Gravois has more than 30 years’ experience as a full-time practicing attorney in a diverse solo practice.

According to Gravois, an effective Court of Appeal judge should be studious and patient, with a full understanding of the law. He is confident this has prepared him to rule impartially in cases involving people from all walks of life.

Gravois was born on Dec. 13, 1953 and will celebrate his 67th birthday this year. He said the law makes it very clear that “(a) judge who attains 70 years of age while serving a term of office shall be allowed to complete that term in office,” according to the Louisiana Constitution Article 5, Section 23.

“If re-elected, I fully intend to complete my 10-year term of office,” Gravois said.

Rob Snyder Jr., a challenger for the Fifth Circuit seat, has stated that Gravois and the Fifth Circuit are prone to impose sanctions on attorneys and litigants who file appeals.

Gravois strongly disagreed with that sentiment, stating, “In fact, I think the opposite is true. In actuality, this issue comes up only very infrequently in the appellate court, and only comes up when a party has properly pleaded this issue, either in the trial court and/or in the appellate court.”

Gravois explained that the legislature has enacted laws allowing parties to request sanctions, which generally involve court costs and/or attorney’s fees, under certain circumstances. When parties request sanctions, the court must look at the facts of the particular case to decide whether the sanction is appropriate under the parameters set forth in applicable statutes.

He explained that the Fifth Circuit Court operations are separate from the trial court and the Supreme Court. Everyone has a right to appeal a trial decision, and the documentation from each appeal is reviewed by a minimum of three judges. Lawyers can argue cases in front of the judges. Every appellate decision is a written opinion that may be appealed to the Supreme Court.

However, Gravois said the Supreme Court only takes on a small percentage of writs, making the appellate court a crucial step in the judicial process.

“For more than 90 percent of the cases we decide, we are the final decision. That’s how important this position is,” Gravois said.

He added that this position feels like it was made for him.

“This job fits me very well. I’m very comfortable in the position, and I’m excited about the work that I do,” Gravois said. “I feel that I am doing very high level work at the Fifth Circuit based on the experience I’ve had as a lawyer and a judge, and I’d like to continue having the opportunity to do that.”

Gravois is also part of numerous organizations including LaPlace Rotary Club, LaPlace Lions Club, St. John Business Association, St. John Theatre, the Keep St. James Parish Beautiful Board and St. James ARC.