Suit filed over naming La. chief justice

Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A Louisiana Supreme Court justice is suing to block her colleagues from debating and voting on whether she is legally entitled to become the court's next chief justice.

A federal suit filed Thursday on behalf of Justice Bernette Johnson says she is next in line for the job because she qualifies as the court's longest-serving justice. She would be the court's first black chief justice.

But Justice Jeffrey Victory also has staked a claim to succeeding Chief Justice Catherine "Kitty" Kimball, who retires next year.

The debate hinges on whether Johnson's first few years on the court count toward her seniority. Johnson technically filled a seat on a state appeals court when voters elected her in 1994, but she was initially assigned to serve on the Supreme Court on a full-time basis under the terms of a federal consent decree.

The 1992 settlement, which created an eighth Supreme Court district centered in New Orleans, resolved a lawsuit that claimed the system for electing justices diluted black voting strength and violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Johnson filled the eighth seat until the court reverted back to seven districts in 2000, when she was elected again.

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