LAFAYETTE, La. — KATC caught up with Michelle Odinet on Wednesday who was elected as Lafayette City Judge in Division A, with 56% of the vote against Jules Edwards III, with 43%.
City court judges take care of cases arising in the City of Lafayette that do not rise to the felony level and do not amount to more than $20,000 in terms of damages or more than 6 months in jail. Anything more would be handled by the district court.
Odinet said it was team work that propelled her win.
"Everybody on my team, my husband, who after late hours at work would come and meet me going door to door," Odinet said. "My children who spent weekends and time off of work knocking door to door, putting out signs, meeting people. My entire team was wonderful. We all worked really, really hard."
A new program she stated in her campaign she wants to create is a "Veterans Court."
"I cannot wait to start working on the Veterans Court," Odinet said. "Other programs help these individuals who are unemployed give them the skills and help show them how to get a job, as opposed to telling them to get a job. That's a big thing that will help a lot of individuals that end up in City Court."
Asked if she had anything to say to the other candidate in the race, Judge Jules Edwards, she said she was appreciative of having him as an opponent.
"I'd like to thank him for his 27 years of service on the district court bench, thank him for his service in the military, and also thank him for running a clean campaign," Odinet said. "You know a lot of those campaigns this season turned ugly and he was gentleman. And it was a clean race. And I really just appreciate it."
Odinet also had a message for her supporters.
"Thank you, thank you for having faith in me and pulling that lever for me," she said. "I'm so excited to get working and make City Court more efficient and accessible to the general public and implement some of these programs and hopefully will become a model for other growing cities and they will this and use that."
KATC Political Analyst Dr. Pearson Cross also spoke to Kendria LaFleur to give his analysis of the Lafayette city court judge race.
Asked why Odinet seemed to win in a landslide over Edwards, who had more experience, Cross said it came down to demographics.
"This race was not decided by experience, it was instead decided by some of the basic demographics of the area," Cross said. "This is quite a Republican city, currently. Republicans make up about 35% of voters here as compared to Democrats’ 36%, but that’s a lagging percentage."
He added that voting along party lines is also a very strong sentiment among voters in Lafayette.
"Republicans have quite a majority here," said Cross. "Michelle Odinet ran as a Republican. Her opponent ran as a No Party. It was widely known that he used to be a Democrat, I believe. So, it was, in my view, a partisan kind of question.”
Cross said that there are several different issues that came into play during the city court judge race.
"One is people in this area are Republicans in this majority and they like to vote for Republicans," he said. "The other issue is of course that Jules Edwards is African-American. In most elections, we typically vote for white candidates in open elections.
"We do have majority minority judges like Jules Edwards who served on the district court," added Cross. "But he was elected as other judges are who are minority often in these majority-minority districts where they have a better chance of getting elected.
"We have not in Louisiana shown much ability to elect African-Americans in elections that are open to whites and blacks," said Cross.
Cross also said that the campaign for both candidates was hindered by the ongoing pandemic.
"In the end, I think COVID had a deleterious effect on elections," he said. "So, it was a 14 point gap. That’s not an enormous gap. Judge Edwards actually did very well by the standards that I would ascertain.
"There weren’t that many opportunities to go speak to groups," said Cross. "Judge Edwards had a lot of signs out as did Michelle Odinet. So, both of these candidates did the best that they could given the restrictions that we operate under at this time."
Cross also spoke on what Edwards could do with his career now that he won't be serving in the Lafayette city court.
"It looks like Judge Edwards will have to find another outlet for his good deeds," he said. "He could retire of course right now and do quite well. As I understand, he would have taken quite a pay cut had he actually won this position."
Cross explained that the paycut has to do with the way retirement works in Louisiana and if you’re still working and how much you can collect.
"Judge Edwards is quite well liked and seen as a very community spirited kind of person, so I don’t think this race and the outcome should be taken as a reflection on Judge Edwards per se," Cross said. "I see it as a kind of partisan and demographic outcome, which is certainly understandable in our country. We tend to vote along partisan lines."
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