Vanessa Anseman: practice imperfect

by Mike Stagg

After three years away from the legal profession, Vanessa Waguespack Anseman got her law license reinstated on Jan. 13, the same day she qualified for a seat on the Third Circuit Court of Appeal.

Photos by Robin May

[Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in a three-part series on the Third Circuit Court of Appeal race. Next week The Independent will report on the third candidate in the race, Susan Theall. Read the first installment on the controversial candidacy of Candyce Perret here.]

Vanessa Waguespack Anseman was the last of three candidates to qualify for the Third Circuit Court of Appeal seat that Justice Jimmy Genovese gave up when he was elected to the Louisiana Supreme Court last November.

Anseman filed to run for the seat late in the day on Friday, Jan. 13, the final day of qualifying for the March 25 election to serve out the remaining eight years on Genovese’s 10-year term. In a Feb. 15 interview with The Independent, Anseman explains that she waited to confirm that no sitting judge qualified for the race before making the trek to Baton Rouge that day to file her candidate papers with the secretary of state.

But it wasn’t just caution — and it wasn’t just strategy. The fact is that Anseman could not qualify before that day because she was not eligible to practice law or run for the seat until the Louisiana State Bar Association had reinstated her license to practice.

Anseman walked away from the practice of law in the fall of 2012 in large part to care for her ailing father, Stanislaus J. Waguespack III, who suffered from dementia. He died a year later.

“At that point, I was a month away from making partner at Liskow & Lewis,” Anseman says. “But I met with the partners at the firm and told them that I would have to step down in order to meet the needs of my family.”

Anseman and her husband, Norman “Skeet” Anseman Jr., a partner in the Jones Walker law firm’s River Ranch office, are parents of three children.

The candidate acknowledges that she did not file the requisite paperwork with the Louisiana State Bar Association allowing her to formally step away from the profession. Instead, she simply stopped paying her fees.

“As a result of that failure to pay her fees and file forms, she was certified ineligible to practice,” Loretta Larsen, executive director of the LSBA, tells The Independent. If she was not eligible to practice, she would not have been eligible to run for the seat.

Because of the timing of the certifications of ineligibility and the election, Anseman might not be eligible for a seat on the Third Circuit. At issue is Article 5 Section 24 of the Louisiana Constitution which sets the terms of eligibility for candidates for the state supreme court and appellate courts. It reads:

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.

But, because the LSBA certified Anseman ineligible to practice law before she had been active for 10 years, her eligibility as a candidate is not clear. Anseman’s nine years of practice (three years at Jones Walker and six at Liskow & Lewis) don’t meet the state’s minimum requirement to qualify to serve on an appellate court, if Loyola law professor and legal ethics expert Dane Ciolino’s interpretation of the law proves accurate.

Anseman was admitted to the bar on October 10, 2003. She was first certified ineligible to practice law by the LSBA on May 31, 2013 — nine years and 233 days after she was admitted to practice law. According to the LSBA, Anseman was not fully reinstated to practice law until Jan. 13 of this year.

Ciolino tells The Independent “periods of ineligibility do not count toward time in practice.” If Ciolino is correct, Anseman will not reach 10 years in the actual practice of law until May 26 of this year, nearly a month after the runoff election in the race (if one is needed). Read more on his position here.

Anseman and her husband maintain that the law means that any attorney can run for an appellate court judgeship at any point after the 10th anniversary of their admission to the bar.

Anseman was born in Baton Rouge and graduated from LSU with a political science degree in 2000. She enrolled in LSU’s Paul M. Hebert Law Center and worked at the Law Review, graduating in 2003 in the top 10 percent of her class.

From law school, Anseman went to work at Jones Walker’s New Orleans office, specializing in oil and gas, insurance defense and maritime work. She and her first husband were living in New Orleans when the levees failed following Hurricane Katrina. “Our house, literally, was right on the 17th Street Canal,” Anseman says. “It was eight weeks before we could get to our house.”

The trauma of the flooding and dislocation led Anseman to leave New Orleans. Lafayette was her mother’s hometown, and she landed a position at Liskow & Lewis’s office here in 2006. She worked there for six years until stepping away from the law.

During her time away from the practice of law, Anseman taught yoga part-time at City Club at River Ranch, something she had begun doing in 2012, and doing volunteer work with the Junior League and the March of Dimes.

Anseman says her time away from the legal practice provided her with a perspective on the law and the courts that has emerged as a central theme in her campaign — protecting the integrity of the courts.

“What I learned when I was away from the practice is that our courts are not held in high regard,” Anseman says. “There is this belief that our courts are political and decisions are made for political reasons.”

Anseman says she became a candidate to change that. “That’s why I want to run. I’m tired of it. It’s offensive to me that people believe that our courts and our system is so political, that it has nothing to do with fairness and nothing to do with what is written in our law.

“I am not tied to any firm,” Anseman continues. “I am tied to no politician. I think that we need someone on the court who will at least say that they want no part of that, that they want to serve and actually apply the law as written.”

She believes the variety of cases she handled at Jones Walker and Liskow & Lewis and the complexity of them — it was mainly the maritime work that drew her to Lafayette — along with her passion for research make her a good fit for the judgeship.

Anseman says she’ll bring her conservative values and a strict constructionist approach to the bench and will not “legislate from the bench.”

The candidate has strenuously sought to avoid any discussion of the legal cloud hanging over Candyce Perret’s campaign resulting from the ongoing federal investigation into the billing practices of her husband Hunter Perret’s Louisiana Specialty Institute (since that story was published the paper has confirmed with one attorney that investigators are also looking into the business practices of some of Hunter Perret’s other companies). Candyce Perret served as legal counsel and custodian of medical records for LSI in 2013 and 2014 and is now general counsel for The Perret Group, a limited liability company that serves as an umbrella entity for various companies owned by Candyce and Hunter Perret. The couple’s legal problems were first brought to public attention by former 15th Judicial District Court Judge Susan Theall, the third Republican woman seeking the appeals court seat.

“I cannot and will not go there,” Anseman declares. “I do not want to talk about the Perrets’ legal problems. That is something they are going to have to deal with.”

In response to a question about the wisdom of Perret’s candidacy in light of the investigation, Anseman says only that “it would certainly give most people pause.”

Anseman claims that her refusal to seek to use the Perrets’ legal issues to her political advantage extends to conversations with her campaign advisers.

Political consultant Joe Castille outside of the Lafayette Parish Courthouse in May
Photo by Robin May

Lafayette political consultant Joe Castille met with the Ansemans at their River Ranch home for six hours on Jan. 8, the Sunday before qualifying (a fact Castille, a crafty political operative, unwittingly confirmed to this reporter). In response to repeated questions from The Independent on the matter, Anseman insists that she and Castille never discussed the Perrets or LSI during the two weeks or so that Castille worked for her campaign. “We had no talk about LSI,” Anseman says. “No. No. No.”

As reported here earlier, Castille had talked at length to at least one other potential candidate in the Third District race about LSI and the Perrets. Other sources say they believed Castille was looking for a candidate who would be willing to use his information about the legal issues swirling around Candyce Perret’s candidacy.

“I can’t speak to what Joe knew or did not know,” Anseman insists. “But I made it pretty clear from the get-go that I am not a politician, I have no agenda, and I don’t want any part of this political circus that may or may not emerge.”

Roy Fletcher of Baton Rouge, the veteran media consultant now working with Anseman, says his candidate has expressed no interest in making an issue of the Perrets’ problems. Anseman tells The Independent she reached out to Fletcher after speaking with her brother, former four-term Assumption Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack. Waguespack has first-hand knowledge of Fletcher’s ability. “My brother told me [Fletcher] helped elect him and, 16 years later, helped defeat him,” Anseman says.

Political consultant Roy Fletcher
Photo by Robin May

Fletcher, who has extensive experience with independent political action committees in judicial races, says he is not aware of any third-party PAC activity in connection with this race, for which he expects very low voter turnout, as it is an off-year election that shares the ballot with a special legislative election to fill the unexpired term of former Rep. Jack Montoucet of Crowley. Montoucet vacated the seat to serve as secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Fletcher says Anseman’s campaign messaging will begin in March after Mardi Gras has died down.

“It really doesn’t float her boat,” Fletcher tells the paper about Anseman’s take on the Perrets’ legal woes. “She’s focused on the idea of restoring confidence in the courts. And that’s a theme that we’re going to work.”

Contact Mike Stagg at [email protected]_