Feb. 23, 2017 02:13 PM

Loyola’s Dane Ciolino tells The Independent Anseman falls short of the minimum 10 years of legal practice required for a seat on the state's appellate courts.

Vanessa Anseman
Photo by Robin May

Louisiana’s top legal ethicist this week tells The Independent that Vanessa Anseman is not eligible to serve on the Third Circuit Court of Appeal because she does not have the minimum 10 years of legal practice the Louisiana Constitution requires for appellate court judges.

Records obtained by the paper this week confirm that the Louisiana State Bar Association certified Anseman as ineligible to practice law three times in 2013, prior to the 10th anniversary of her admission to the Louisiana bar. She only regained her eligibility to practice on Jan. 13 of this year, the day she qualified to run for the Third Circuit Court of Appeal seat made vacant by the election of Judge Jimmy Genovese to the Louisiana Supreme Court last fall. Anseman is one of three Republican women seeking the seat; Candyce Perret and Susan Theall are also running.
Louisiana legal ethicist Dane Ciolino

Loyola University College of Law professor Dane Ciolino, considered by many to be Louisiana’s top legal ethicist, says the timing of those certifications of ineligibility means Anseman does not meet the minimum professional requirement to serve as an appellate court judge.

“It’s clear to me that the candidate is not eligible for judgeship given her period of ineligibility,” Ciolino says in an email to The Independent Thursday morning. Ciolino cites Article 5 Section 24 of the Louisiana Constitution. Article 5, Section 24, part 1 states:
§24. Judges; Qualifications
Section 24.(A) A judge of the supreme court, a court of appeal, district court, family court, parish court, or court having solely juvenile jurisdiction shall have been domiciled in the respective district, circuit, or parish for one year preceding election and shall have been admitted to the practice of law in the state for at least the number of years specified as follows:
(1) For the supreme court or a court of appeals - ten years.
“It’s fairly clear that she’s not eligible because she has not been admitted to practice for the required 10 years,” Ciolino explains in a follow-up call with the paper. “Periods of ineligibility do not count toward the 10-year requirement.”

Vanessa Anseman disputes Ciolino’s opinion, attributing questions about her eligibility to “politics.”

Ciolino says he’s surprised that Anseman’s candidacy was not challenged by one of her opponents. When informed that the primary election is March 25 and the runoff (if needed) April 29, Ciolino says he does not believe Anseman would be eligible to serve if elected, despite that she regained her eligibility to practice on Jan. 13.

Ciolino serves as the A. R. Christovich Distinguished Professor of Law at the Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, where his teaching interests include professional responsibility, evidence, advocacy and criminal law. He is the editor of the weblog “Louisiana Legal Ethics” and the 2017 book Louisiana Legal Ethics: Standards and Commentary.

Since joining the faculty at Loyola, Ciolino has served as reporter to the Louisiana State Bar Association Ethics 2000 Committee, as chairman of a Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board Hearing Committee, as chairman of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana Lawyer Disciplinary Committee, as general counsel for the City of New Orleans Ethics Review Board, and as a member of various Louisiana State Bar Association committees (including the Professionalism Committee, the Lawyer & Judicial Codes of Conduct Committee and the Ethics Advisory Service Committee).

Anseman argues that she meets the 10-year requirement for seeking the appellate seat because she was "admitted to the practice" of law in October 2003. The candidate dismisses any notion that her being certified ineligible to practice from May 31, 2013, to Jan. 13 of this year is a factor in whether she can legally assume the seat if she wins.

Anseman was admitted to the Louisiana Bar on Oct. 10, 2003, according to the Louisiana State Bar Association. In a meeting with the editorial board of The Independent and this writer last week, she said she walked away from her law career one month short of making partner at Liskow & Lewis primarily to care for her ailing father. Her LinkedIn page lists 2013 as her last year at the firm.

The question about her length of service arose in connection with a candidate profile set to run this week as part of The Independent’s ongoing coverage of the Third Circuit race.

In a phone conversation Wednesday afternoon to clarify graduation dates from LSU and LSU’s Paul Hebert Law Center, Anseman tells this reporter that she left Liskow & Lewis in September 2012 (not 2013, as her LinkedIn profile suggests). She worked for three years at Jones Walker’s New Orleans office after getting admitted to the bar and later moved to Lafayette, joining Liskow & Lewis in 2006. Leaving the firm in 2012 means that she has nine years of active practice, not the required 10 years.

Anseman believes the time period of her ineligibility to practice is not an issue, maintaining she meets the requirement by having been admitted to the bar more than 10 years ago. To prove her point, she sent via text message the same article and section of the Louisiana Constitution cited by Ciolino.
This Feb. 23 letter from the state bar association outlines the three separate occasions in which Vanessa Anseman was certified ineligible to practice law.

The problem for Anseman is that when she walked away from the practice, she failed to pay her dues and participate in mandatory continuing legal education classes. Loretta Larsen, executive director of the LSBA, says Anseman was certified as ineligible to practice law on three separate occasions, all relating to failure to address administrative and professional responsibilities needed to maintain eligibility to practice law.

The LSBA first certified Anseman ineligible to practice for failure to attend mandatory continuing legal education classes on May 31, 2013, five months short of her 10th anniversary of being admitted to the bar. She was again certified ineligible on Sept. 9, 2013, for failure to pay her LSBA dues. The third certification of ineligibility came on Sept. 9, 2014, for failure to file a required trust account registration form.

“Any one of these certifications of ineligibility meant that she was ineligible to practice law,” Larsen says.

Anseman only apparently decided to seek to regain her eligibility once she decided to run for the seat.

According to the LSBA’s Larsen, Anseman paid her dues and a Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board assessment on Jan. 9. She also filed a trust account registration form on that day. She attended CLE classes that week and was declared eligible on Jan. 13, the final day of qualifying for the Third Circuit Court seat.

As part of the effort to determine who is right — Ciolino or Anseman — on the question of eligibility to serve, The Independent contacted the Louisiana Supreme Court’s Judicial Administrators Office. Deputy Administrator Valerie Willard says the issue of eligibility is a matter of law that is beyond the purview of her office.

“We are not allowed to give opinions on matters of law,” Willard says. “Ultimately, this would be a matter settled in court.”

Willard referred The Independent to the Supreme Court’s Law Library to seek any case law on similar matters. As of press time, the Law Library Reference Desk had not responded to our phone call.

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