[Editor’s Note: Castle and Genovese will debate each other Monday, Sept. 26, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. at Burke-Hawthorne Hall on UL’s campus. UL’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Acadiana Press Club are sponsoring the debate.]
You probably haven’t heard much about the election in the Supreme Court’s Third District. But you will soon. There’s national interest in the race, with expectations that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will make an entry, and heavy-duty super PACs are lining up on both sides of the contest. The business lobby is all in for 15th Judicial District Court Judge Marilyn Castle, especially the oil and gas boys, who view the election as an opportunity to get ahead of the historic lawsuits filed against them for various kinds of damages, some dating back generations. The stakes are high on that side of the game, which is why many are looking for trial lawyers to coalesce behind Appellate Judge Jimmy Genovese, who contends his support is actually from a much broader spectrum.
Castle and Genovese are vying for the seat held by Associate Justice Jeannette Knoll, who is retiring.
It’s somewhat personal for the business lobby. The election is a chance to counter the victory of Justice Jeff Hughes in 2012, when the trial lawyer-backed Citizens for Clean Water and Land PAC dumped a half million into TV on his behalf. The same faction also helped Gov. John Bel Edwards in his election last year. But this go around, business associations of all stripes are hoping to be more competitive on that front.
History may be on Genovese’s side, as every Third District justice elected since 1960 has come directly from his Third Circuit Court of Appeal, which is one of his key talking points. But he’s going to have to fight for it. The latest campaign finance reports show $261,000 in the bank for Genovese to Castle’s $234,000. Both of those numbers are likely to climb substantially.
Spanning eight parishes in the southwest corner of Louisiana, the Supreme Court’s Third District is massive. That means this is a media campaign, pure and simple. Castle hasn’t been on radio or TV yet, but a six-figure buy from her campaign has been described as “imminent.” Castle’s campaign is being run by Marie Centanni and the Political Firm is her media consultant. Genovese has run spots in the Lake Charles market and recently placed a commercial in the greater Acadiana region during the UL-McNeese game. He said he just cut some radio spots, too, that will begin airing shortly. Amy Jones is running his campaign and Jared Arsement is overseeing media.
Internal polling by the Genovese campaign from the spring showed that 60 percent of voters in the district were not familiar with either candidate — a finding mirrored by some of Castle’s polling. So both candidates are eager to define themselves before someone else does. Unlike the 2012 Supreme Court race, this is not a crowded field, plus the only two candidates are Republicans, albeit with different affiliation stories. Castle has been a registered Republican since 1976, save a short span in the 1990s when she was an independent before switching back and running for the bench. Genovese was likewise an independent until 18 months ago, when advisers and friends urged him to pick one or the other to be more competitive. Both candidates are touting their conservative bonafides on the campaign trail.
Experience and endorsements are early points of contrast. Genovese argues that he’s a better fit because he alone has appellate court experience, while Castle notes that three of the sitting seven justices came from the district court level. Both have vowed to remain positive — that is, until they get hit and a response is needed — but Genovese has publicly expressed concern over Castle’s endorsements from the PACs operated by LABI, NFIB, ABC Pelican, LAMPAC and others. It’s a question of influence, he said, and such groups should not treat a judicial race like others on the ballot.
“That’s a key distinction in this race,” said Genovese, who was vetted for LABI’s endorsement.
Castle responded, “No one who has endorsed me has ever asked for anything, nor would I commit to that.”
Turning her attention back to courtroom experience, she added, “We all have a record, and that’s what counts.”
That’s part of the messaging for the business lobby as well, that Genovese’s Third Circuit Court of Appeal is frequently overturned.
Another strategy has Genovese supporters accusing Castle of being too cozy with oil and gas interests, which she labels as an inflated claim, and Castle supporters accusing Genovese of being a trial lawyer candidate, which he brushes aside while noting support from defense attorneys. Independent expenditures in this race will probably play up the extremes, painting Genovese as anti-oil and Castle as being in cahoots with big business, neither of which will play well in the blue collar oil patch of Cajun country. Neither candidate wants to go down that inevitable path.
With just seven seats on the Supreme Court, and four needed for a decision, you can expect this judicial race, and those that follow in future years, to become a political spectacle worth tracking.