Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Gautreaux, Montgomery and Theall vie for Division M judge seat. By Heather Miller

When voters head to the polls Oct. 22, the ballot for a district judge’s seat in one of two sections completely devoted to family court will include three Lafayette lawyers with extensive backgrounds in family law.

Kay Karré Gautreaux, Marshall Montgomery and Susan Theall are vying for the Division M judge’s seat, which was vacated by Phyllis Keaty last year when she was elected to the Third Circuit Court of Appeal.

Though Division M is dedicated to a very specific sector of law, it’s an important distinction as the division only handles cases involving children.

“We’re dealing with the most emotional, complex issues there are in law,” Theall points out.

A Lafayette native and resident, Gautreaux is an alumna of both Our Lady of Fatima High School and LSU law school. Before starting her private practice in town, Gautreaux served as a law clerk in district court and was later selected for a clerkship with U.S. District Judge John Shaw. In addition to her family law practice, Gautreaux also handles misdemeanor drug and domestic abuse cases for the public defender’s office in Lafayette.

“I say that I’m a family’s lawyer rather than a family law lawyer,” Gautreaux says. “I handle all aspects of family life, successions, wills, estate planning, fender benders when kids are in trouble, and I’m an indigent defender that handles all domestic abuse battery and violations of protective orders. I’m committed because I’m a wife and mother, and I do handle family law matters. I feel I could do the most good here.”

As of Sept. 22, the most recent reporting period available from the Louisiana Board of Ethics, Gautreaux had almost $54,000 in campaign contributions.

Like Gautreaux, this election cycle marks the first time Montgomery has run for public office. Montgomery says his practice in Lafayette is 89 percent family law and has been for 20 years. A Lafayette High and UL Lafayette graduate, Montgomery earned his law degree from the Mississippi College School of Law. He says his wide variety of work experience, which goes beyond family law, will help to round out the qualities needed for the bench.

“I think with the vacancy, it’s an opportunity for me to give back to the people what I have to offer,” Montgomery says. “The judges have to be able to deal with their problems quickly, obviously fairly and with a lot of compassion. I come from a large family and have children of my own. I know what it’s like. I know the dynamics. And I know what it’s like to work hard and relate to people. I’ve not only done divorce and alimony work, I’ve also been in the business environment, done criminal work, personal injury and multi million dollar business transactions. I know what it’s like to work in court more closely with the attorneys to resolve problems.”

Montgomery had a little more than $54,000 in his campaign coffers as of Sept. 22.

For Theall, family court isn’t just an integral part of her job as a private practice family court attorney, she says. It’s a passion that led her to become one of seven Lafayette attorneys who successfully pushed for the creation of a separate family court division in Lafayette, which the Louisiana Supreme Court approved in 1999.

A Northside High, UL Lafayette and Loyola law school grad, Theall made an unsuccessful run for district judge against current family court Judge David Blanchet 10 years ago. She has raised more than $77,000 in campaign contributions as of Sept. 22.

“I’m the candidate with the most experience when it comes to the best interest of children,” Theall says. “I’ve spent my entire career being a voice for children and an advocate for parents. You have to be fair, responsible, compassionate, and have to resolve matters quickly with as little conflict as possible. The whole idea is to ensure that children get supported as quickly as possible. When it drags on for three or four months, parents’ worst fears come to the forefront. The degree of animosity intensifies and parents lose sight sometimes on what’s most important.”

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