Nederland Municipal Court doubles down

Published 4:32 pm Thursday, July 9, 2015

City Council fills judge vacancy after eight-month search

NEDERLAND — After a long vacancy behind the Nederland Municipal Court judge’s bench, City Council has opted to fill the position with not one, but two robed officials.

Brad Burnett, Jefferson County Justice of the Peace for Precinct 7, and Lairon “Larry” Dowden Jr., an attorney at law with his own practice on Nederland Avenue, are sharing the responsibility — working as the first pair of judges in the city’s history.

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“We’ve never had two judges before, but we’ve already had meetings with the court staff, the police chief and both judges to work out the scheduling,” Chris Duque, Nederland city manager, said Thursday. “They’re splitting their hours evenly throughout the year, and they’ll both take home half the pay.”

Duque said the municipal court judge position pays $1,800 a month — an even split will give both men $900 a month — for the full two-year state appointment.

Burnett and Dowden were officially appointed on July 1, so their terms won’t expire until July 1, 2017.

“We don’t expect any changes in the level of service or operations of the court just because we’re doing things a little differently with two judges instead of one,” Duque said. “Larry’s actually served as a prosecutor for the city in the past, so he has experience with our municipal court. Brad Burnett hasn’t worked for us before, but he’s a well-known figure in the county court system.”

Burnett and Dowden are filling the vacancy left by Kent Walston, who had to step down from the bench soon after he was elected judge of the Jefferson County 58th District Court in November.

The Nederland City Charter — at that time, anyway — specified the municipal judge position could not be held by an elected official. Nederland voters removed that wording with 74 percent approval during a special City Charter election in May to avoid another situation that would quickly leave the city without a judge in the future.

Nederland City Council temporarily filled the vacancy left by Walston’s departure with Mike Simon — the presiding municipal court judge for Mid-County neighbor Groves — who acted as interim judge in Nederland from January to June.

“The two courts don’t meet on the same day, so Judge Simon was able to step in and do both for several months,” Duque said. “We were very happy he helped us when we needed that assistance, and he did an excellent job.

“Now we’ve got two judges on the bench for the next two years, and we’re ready to move forward with the court.”

The Nederland Municipal Court is located inside the Homer E. Nagel Public Safety Complex at 1400 Boston Avenue. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

For more information, call the court at (409) 723-1526.

Twitter: @crhenderson90