By John Simerman | Nola.com | February 3, 2020
Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Arthur Hunter has stepped down after 24 years on the bench, filing his resignation letter on Monday. He is rumored to be readying a run for district attorney.
Hunter, who was considered to be among the most liberal of the 12 judges on the criminal court’s bench, did not respond to messages Monday seeking comment on his plans.
Hunter has notified the state and the Louisiana Supreme Court of his decision. An election to fill his seat will likely be scheduled for the fall.
Attorney Hunter Harris IV, who has run in the past for an Orleans district judgeship, was named to fill the vacancy through June 30, in an order signed Monday by Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Johnson.
Courthouses sources have said that Hunter, 60, has telegraphed his intention to run for the post currently held by District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, who is nearing the end of his second six-year term and has not said whether he plans to run again.
City Councilman Jason Williams also is expected to join a race that’s expected to draw national interest. What other candidates may emerge before the July qualifying period remains uncertain.
Hunter is a favorite of criminal defense lawyers, many of whom came by his courtroom on Friday to see him off the bench, where he had repeatedly taken up causes championed by the Orleans Public Defenders office.
In 2017, Hunter held a rare evidentiary hearing over a challenge to the constitutionality of the state’s former split-verdict law, which allowed less-than-unanimous verdicts. He ultimately decided he didn’t have enough data on its effects to overturn it.
A year earlier, Hunter controversially halted the prosecutions of seven indigent felony defendants, threatening to release them after they’d sat without lawyers, some for months, as Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton filled a waiting list with scores of defendants seeking free counsel amid a budget squeeze.
Hunter also went the lightest of any Orleans Parish judge in his issuance of fines on criminal defendants. And in a 2013 study by the Metropolitan Crime Commission, Hunter ranked second, behind the since-retired Frank Marullo Jr., in how often he acquitted defendants who chose to forgo a jury in favor of a judge trial.
Hunter and Criminal District Judge Laurie White set up the state’s first re-entry court, a model for rehabilitation that has since spread statewide.
Hunter, who also ran a specialty court for military veterans, worked briefly as a New Orleans police officer in the mid-1980s before graduating from Loyola law school and going into private practice.
He served as general counsel to then-Civil Sheriff Paul Valteau before becoming the choice of then-Mayor Marc Morial for one of two new judgeships on the Orleans Parish criminal court. Hunter won the Section K seat in 1996 and held it until he stepped down Friday.