Criminal District Court Judge Frank Marullo, who was first appointed to the bench in 1974 to replace retiring Judge Thomas Brahney and is now the longest-serving judge in the state, has not faced an opponent in an election since 1996, when he beat Camille Buras by less than 2 percentage points.
This year, however, he initially faced four opponents. That has since been whittled down to two: attorneys Graham Bosworth and Marie Williams.
Marullo’s problems this election year haven’t been confined to the ballot, either. He’s been forced to defend himself in the media and in court.
In September, WDSU-TV — apparently working with Williams — caught Marullo on tape allegedly offering Williams a job in exchange for dropping out of the race. The FBI is reportedly looking into the incident.
This month, NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune reported that Marullo had billed the court more than $11,000 to cover travel expenses in 2013 and 2014. Marullo’s travel reimbursements were the second-highest among the court’s 12 judges.
Marullo said his travel expenses were in line with the guidelines of the Louisiana Supreme Court and that he teaches constitutional law to judges and lawyers at those conferences.
“That’s an important thing to do,” he said. “You can’t just sit in a vacuum. You sit in your courtroom and you never get exposure to what other people are doing, wherever they may be.”
As for the allegations involving Williams, Marullo said he did not offer a job to her and only met with her because he was told she had decided to drop out and was offering to endorse him. Williams described it differently in an interview with The Lens.
“This lady talks about things that I — I don’t know what she’s talking about,” Marullo said. “At one of these forums … she got tears in her eyes, she looked down at me, and she said, ‘This man threatened my children.’ I didn’t even know she had children.”
He also criticized WDSU’s role.
“The station’s playing politics,” he said, adding that the station recorded the meeting on a Wednesday but did not run it until the following Monday, a day before an Alliance for Good Government candidate forum.
The group supported Bosworth. “That’s the first time I’ve lost the Alliance,” Marullo said. “And that was the reason.”
He said he saw a similar pattern in the court challenge to his candidacy, which argued that the state constitution requires judges to retire when they are 70 years old. Marullo argued that because he was appointed before the 1974 constitution was adopted, the retirement age in the 1921 Constitution, which is 75 years old, should apply.
Two of the plaintiffs in the suit were Robert and Lisa Amoss, brother and sister-in-law of NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune editor Jim Amoss.
“I don’t have any axe to grind with anybody in this race,” he said. “I don’t like the episodes that took place. I think that’s dirty, dirty politics. But I’m just going to run a clean race.”
The legal challenge has been resolved through the end of the election — the Louisiana Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of lower court rulings in Marullo’s favor — but it’s still unclear whether he could serve. He turns 75 on Dec. 31; new terms traditionally begin in January.
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeal rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the question of his eligibility to serve makes him ineligible to run. Still, the ruling acknowledged the potential issue.
“We recognize the inherent quagmire presented by this matter, insofar as Judge Marullo may be retired by the Supreme Court immediately after taking office,” the judge wrote.
If he’s re-elected and can serve, Marullo said he would lobby the state Legislature to loosen or repeal mandatory minimum sentences.
“I’ve seen things happen since the 1970s. I was in the Legislature first. And I watched changes take place, mandatory sentencing, taking discretion away from judges,” he said. “And I’ve been fighting that for a long time. But I think I want to put a big fight on to bring back discretion to the bench.”
He said he would focus on nonviolent offenders, particularly drug offenders, who he said are far too often sent to prison rather than being rehabilitated. That costs the state economically — the costs of caring for prisoners — and socially.
“Socially, it doesn’t make any sense because not only that person goes to jail, you break a family unit up. The wife is left. Children are left,” he said. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”
“Incarceration is the last remedy. It’s for those people who are trying to hurt people,” he said. “People who are trying to hurt themselves should either be in forensic facilities or given guidance in some kind of way, drug treatment. It’s cheaper, and it’s more cost effective, and it’s socially effective.”
To show that he values rehabilitation over punishment, Marullo noted that he helped secure funding for the city’s first drug court. However, while drug courts are now known for focusing on treatment, media accounts of New Orleans’ first drug court in 1989 depict a much more punitive approach.
Locally, he said he would like to see Orleans Parish Prison’s population reduced through electronic monitoring and court supervision. But he is opposed to the Vera Institute of Justice’s Pretrial Services program, which was brought into the jail, in part, with an eye toward reducing the number of inmates. Vera’s employees screen arrestees for indications that they may fail to appear in court or re-offend if they are released from jail before trial.
“I think the way the program works right now, it’s more on what the defendant tells the person who’s investigating. And I don’t think it’s that great a system,” he said, adding that the program assigned a low-risk rating to Akein Scott in March 2013. Two months later, Scott allegedly participated in a mass, indiscriminate shooting during a Mother’s Day parade.
“I’ve had cases where I’ve looked at their recommendation, and I do my own research because I have my own people do that,” Marullo said. “They’ll come back with the rap sheet. And I’ll say, ‘I ain’t letting that guy go, he’s violent.’”