4 look to be next DA

Aaron Looney
Clockwise, from left: Ricky Babin, Louis J. Lambert, Charles "Chuck" Long and Pegram Mire Jr. are each looking to become the next 23rd Judicial District Attorney.

For the first time in nearly 20 years, voters in the 23rd Judicial District will have a new district attorney beginning next year.

The primary election for the office - which represents Ascension, Assumption and St. James parishes - will take place during Saturday’s statewide elections, with any runoff to be decided during the Nov. 4 presidential election.

The winner will succeed current District Attorney Anthony Falterman of Napoleonville, who is not seeking reelection after serving 18 years.

Those seeking office are assistant district attorneys Ricky Babin and Charles “Chuck” Long, former district and parish court judge Pegram J. Mire Jr. and former Public Service Commissioner and State Rep. Louis J. Lambert, who is also a local attorney.

All four men are registered Democrats.

Babin, a Gonzales resident, has served as an assistant district attorney for 13 years, having served as first assistant district attorney for the past six years. He has coordinated the day-to-day operations of the office, including the prosecution of felony and misdemeanor criminal cases.

Long, a Donaldsonville resident, has served as an assistant district attorney under Falterman for the past 17 years and as legal counsel for the City of Donaldsonville for the past 16 years.

Lambert, a Prairieville resident who operates his own private law practice, formerly served as chairman of the Public Service Commission and also currently sits on the LSU Board of Directors.

Mire, who resides in Donaldsonville, recently stepped down from the 23rd Judicial District bench to pursue the DA’s office. He has also served as a parish court judge and an assistant DA.

Leadership qualities discussed

Each of the candidates said their experience both in the legal system and in other areas makes them the best man for the job.

“I have 3,411 reasons why I’m the best candidate,” Long said. “That’s the number of criminals I’ve prosecuted and continue to prosecute today. No matter how you look at it, no one in this race can come close to that record. I’ve prosecuted serial killers, armed robbers, burglars. You name it.”

Mire said he feels his experience on the bench gives him a different perspective on the workings of the DA’s office.

“We all have experience, but we have to look at if it is the right experience,” Mire said. “I’ve been in the court system here for more than 25 years as a judge and five additional years prior as a prosecutor. I’ve been an attorney. I’ve been there every day. Being a judge is a 7-day-a-week, 24-hour-a-day job. I’ve made some tough decisions, and that’s what it takes to be DA.”

Babin said being with the DA’s office for many years allows him the experience of handling numerous jury and bench trials and day-to-day operations of the office. He also cited his work as a legal counsel for government entities within the district, another aspect of the office.

“I think my commitment for this job is important,” Babin said. “I’ve never run for another political office. I’ve done this for my entire career.”

Lambert said experience as a leader in the state legislature, on the Public Service Commission and in other areas qualify him to lead the DA’s office.

“The next DA must be a leader,” he said. “I’ve provided leadership as PSC commissioner and chairman and as president pro tem of the state Senate. A leader has to be able to assemble a team of best and brightest full-time prosecutors and eliminate an antiquated system.”

Candidates push histories of performance

Throughout their campaigns, all four candidates have highlighted experience in the legal system and government matters.

Babin said the district has seen a low crime rate during his tenure, thanks to a cooperative effort from judges, law enforcement and the DA’s office.

“I think the proof’s in the pudding,” Babin said. “People are moving to this area because of schools and low crime. I think our district is one of the safest places there is. You can walk through your neighborhood. That proves that law enforcement in this area has been excellent and that we’re working to get the criminal element off the streets.”

During his time in the senate, Lambert said, he helped pass more than 750 new criminal laws, including the state’s first DNA testing law for all convicted felons. As a public service commissioner, he said, he helped protect consumers by forcing utility companies to refund more than $1 billion on utility bills. He also presided as a judge over thousands of administrative law cases.

Lambert also cited his 30 years of experience as an attorney and having served as a Judge Advocate General in the Louisiana National Guard as giving him valuable and varied legal experience.

Mire, who served as an assistant DA prior to becoming a district court judge, said his time on the bench allowed him to see what the DA’s office has done both right and wrong, and what needs to be done to repair problems.

Long said his experience as a prosecutor in the district and working with government entities gives him the insight to serve as DA.

“We had 24,000 criminal cases in the district last year,” he said. “If you're going to run the office, you need to be intimately familiar with each case. Ive been there since 1991 doing that. I've been the chief legal advisor to Donaldsonville for 17 years. Not on a part time basis, but on a full time basis.”

Hiring additional prosecutors

All four candidates have discussed adding full-time criminal prosecutors to the DA’s office. While they all say they invite the idea, some said that it is just is not feasible.

Lambert said he would be in the courtroom trying cases himself, along with hiring full-time criminal prosecutors. He said he would fund full-time positions by dissolving eight part-time assistant positions and using those funds to pay full-time prosecutors.

“My goal is to transition the office from part-time assistants to full-time prosecutors,” Lambert said.

Long said part of the problem is that there are not enough criminal court dates to prosecute cases.

“I prosecute 400 cases per year, with one week out of each month available to do so,” he said. “That’s a function of the court. If elected, I will meet with the judges and work toward that.”

Long said he would also hire two full-time criminal prosecutors that would alternate weeks in court and in preparation for their cases.

“I’ll keep those judges working 52 weeks a year,” Long said. “That will move cases through the docket.”

Babin said that hiring full-time criminal prosecutors for the district is not currently possible because of lack of full-time criminal court judges and because of state legislation.

“East Baton Rouge Parish’s office is considered full time and paid full time,” Babin said. “They have a different statutory scheme. We don’t have that. The issue wasn’t decided by us, but by legislation. If we can have full-time criminal court, we’d be glad to do that. But I?have to follow the law.”

Mire, a former judge, disputed lack of court dates as a problem, but added that the district judges would welcome more criminal prosecution dates.

“I sat as a judge for 25 years. I sat there and I’d give ample time to prosecute cases,” Mire said. “The judges will gladly give as many days as possible. They want to work. They can give more days, but they’re not gonna set the dates and twiddle their thumbs.”

Mire agreed that full-time prosecutors are needed in the district to clear what he called a “backlog of 3,500 cases.”

Modernizing the office

Most of the candidates said they feel there are at least some aspects of the office that need to be modernized, with Lambert and Mire pushing for bigger changes.

“Ths office needs to come into the 21st century,” Mire said. “Our community, especially here in Ascension, has grown exponentially in the past 25 years. All other parish agencies had to make that quantum leap.”

Mire suggested updating technology systems within the office to make information readily available to the public, judges and prosecutors.

“When I was on the bench as a judge, I could access anything from the sheriff’s office or clerk’s office immediately on my computer,” Mire said. “To get something from the DA’s office took three days because nothing was computerized.”

Mire also said he would work to consolidate offices in the district, while keeping offices in all three parishes.

“Offices are necessary in all three parishes in the district, but something has to be centralized,” he said. "Right now, to call the office, there are four telephone numbers. We need one telephone number where everyone can call. It’s all about making the DA’s office more accessible to the public.”

Babin said he felt that communications between other offices and the DA’s office could be improved.

“We have top-flight equipment within our offices,” Babin said. “But communication with other entities that could be improved upon, in my opinion. That’s an ongoing process.”

Prosecuting more trials would cut down on what Lambert said was the DA’s office plea bargaining 99.094 percent of the criminal cases coming before them.

Lambert said he would work to make the office more transparent, which includes posting the office’s annual budget online.

“Currently, it’s next to impossible to get this info on a current basis,” Lambert said. “I had to file a documents request to the office requesting this info. It was done months ago. Currently, only have a small part of it. I’ve been involved in government for number of years and have been involved in passing some of the public records laws. When it’s this difficult for me to get this info, it’s got to be difficult for others.”

Lambert said he beleives an important piece necessary in modernizing the DA’s office is to institute a new Code of Ethics for the office and its assistants.

“Instituting such a code will remove conflicts of interest that currently exist where assistants represent someone accused of a crime in a civil case,” Lambert said.

Long said he felt the DA’s office is up to date with technology.

“To my knowledge, we have fully functional system,” he said. “We have great equipment and we’re able to get information when we need it.”

Setting themselves apart

Babin said his goals for the DA’s Office include providing competent and professional prosecution to protect public safety, conducting speedy trials to get criminals off the streets quickly, instituting a strike force on crime targeting habitual and career criminals, offering special protection for seniors, providing highly trained prosecutors to prosecute sexual chid predators and having an open-door policy to all citizens.

“I think I’m the most experienced and qualified and have most integrity,” Babin said. Long said that he has “never been political” and has instead focused his talents on being a respected prosecutor.

“The name of game is who can best protect our community,” Long said. “My record speaks for itself. I’m the most qualified to do that.”

Mire said his experience on the bench as a judge gives him the ability to run an efficient and effective DA’s office. He also said that being a self-described “non-politician” helps set him apart from his opponents.

Mire said his career choice to serve the public in the criminal justice system as a career sets him apart from his competitors.

“This is what I chose to do,” he said. “I haven’t run for any other political office or worked in any other field. I chose this as my career at the age of 32, when I started practicing law. I want to continue that career.

Lambert said he knows he is considered an outsider in the race because he has not been involved in the district or the DA’s office.

“I know I’m challenging a political figure that has been in existence in the DA’s office for the past 18 years,” Lambert said. “I’m coming in with no strings attached, no obligations to the past and not under anyone’s control. I owe my allegiance to people to the the district and no one else. It’s a challenge when I realize how ingrained this machine is. In this race, I am truly an outsider to this system. But I’m not afraid of taking on a political machine. It will be left up to people if I succeed.”