How to Become a Judge, Part 5
Hint: Run Unopposed
July 28, 1996

It's every politician's dream to be elected to office without opposition. Most of New Orleans' Civil and Criminal District Court judges seeking re-election accomplished that when nobody qualified against them this month.

But as a political feat, Roland Belsome went the judges one better, winning a Civil Court judgeship without election when he wasn't even an incumbent. Belsome's only opponent withdrew shortly after qualifying closed July 12.

In January, he will put on his robe and take the oath as judge.

A judge's salary [in 1996] is $78,000, but they get supplemental pay that brings their income while they're on the bench to $87,300. In addition, a state judge can retire on full salary after 28 years.

How did this newcomer to politics do it?

Belsome put out a subtle notice when he began distributing his campaign cards in late June. At the bottom of the card he named his campaign chairman. It was Fred Cassibry, the much-admired former Civil Court and then federal judge.

Cassibry, who died July 6, was Belsome's stepfather. He and his wife, Muriel, had legions of friends, especially among lawyers — Cassibry from his days on the bench and Muriel from her years as a deputy clerk in federal court and later Civil Court. And Belsome had made his own reputation and friends. Some of the leading lawyers in the city, including eight former presidents of the Louis A. Martinet Society, an organization of African-American lawyers, were supporting him.

Belsome, 38, got his bachelor's degree from the University of New Orleans, then his law degree from Tulane University. He has been practicing law for more than a decade. He is now an adjunct professor of law at Tulane and a member of the state Bar Association's continuing education program faculty.

Belsome will be installed as judge in January, when the term of the judge he replaces will end. He will replace Judge Richard Garvey in Division C, the seat Cassibry held from 1960 to 1966, when he was appointed to the federal bench.

The lesson to be learned from Belsome's story is that, especially in New Orleans, family and friendships count.

Copyright 1996, The Times-Picayune Publishing Corporation

Adapted from: Iris Kelso, "Two New Judges," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, July 28, 1996, Metro, p. B7.  Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.