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Jupiter, Smith advance to runoff in New Orleans Traffic Court election

By Richard Rainey

NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

October 19, 2013

Attorneys Clint Smith and Steven Jupiter appeared headed to a Nov. 16 runoff after surviving a crowded field Saturday in the race for New Orleans Traffic Court.

The winner of the runoff will fill the bench seat left vacant by former Judge Ronald Sholes.

Sholes set the special election in motion when he announced he would step down after 15 years on the Division “D” bench. During that time, the Traffic Court endured a series of investigations and arrests, including those of two employees in Sholes’ office in 2007.

The court handles between $12 million and $14 million a year in revenue collected through fines and fees. A portion of that sum heads to the city’s general fund. Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux has accused the court of mismanaging its finances. He released a scathing report in 2011 that criticized the judges for ceding too much power to their staff to dismiss or reduce traffic violations and fines. A follow-up report this year showed the court had made improvements, but still had a long way to go.

The Bureau of Governmental Research, a government watchdog group, has also found evidence that Orleans Parish in general has too many judges and that a single judge could handle the Traffic Court’s caseload. The research arm of the state Supreme Court, the so-called Judicial Council, is due to release a report on the state’s judiciary branch in February.

The Division D judgeship is considered a part-time position allowing a sitting judge to maintain his private law practice. Meanwhile, the position also comes with an annual salary of $111,207.

Smith, a protege of the late Justice Revius Ortique Jr., had served as a temporary traffic judge in 2011 after Judge Dennis Dannel died in office. Part of his platform is to better educate people about changing traffic laws to help reduce the number of cases filing through the system.

Jupiter, a member of the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee and brother of Civil District Court Judge Clare Jupiter, had promised to bring more equity to the bench between defendants who could afford a lawyer and those who could not.

The other candidates represented diverse legal backgrounds:

Richard Perque, grandson of the late, colorful House floor leader Risley “Pappy” Triche, wanted to increase the public’s access to judges and opportunities to take a traffic violation charge to trial.

Marie Bookman was a city attorney in former Mayor Marc Morial’s administration before spending 12 years as an appointed magistrate commissioner in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court.

Demetrie Ford, a former ad-hoc judge in New Orleans Juvenile Court and former magistrate pro-tem in Harahan, has served as a prosecutor in Traffic Court for the past 11 years.

Patrick Giraud, son of the late Traffic Court Judge Thomas Giraud and a former court clerk, resigned his post as court crier in August to run for Sholes’ seat.

Nanak Rai ran his first campaign for public office on the notion of bringing management of the city’s stoplight cameras under the Traffic Court’s jurisdiction.

Nicole Sheppard had sought to make the leap from her public television show “Real Life” to the bench.

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