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Hail to the Chiefs

January 06, 2020 2:30 PM
Alina Hernandez ahernandez4@tulane.edu

(L-R) Judges Candice Bates Anderson, Keva Landrum-Johnson, Nannette Jolivette Brown, Ulysses Thibodeaux, Karen Wells Roby, Paulette Irons and Asha Jackson. (Photo credit Tracie Morris Schaefer).


In what remains a singularly seminal moment in Tulane Law history, more than 375 black alumni joined in celebrating the accomplishments of its students of color through the decades one year ago this month.

Among them were trailblazers – the promising student leaders who bravely and passionately came through the law school as it integrated in the late 1960s and 70s. They became the attorneys that paved the way for the generations that filled the halls over the next five decades, carving out a place in legal circles for themselves, and always ever-conscious of those that would follow.

And while success is defined in a myriad of ways, one thing became clear during the reunion Feb. 7-10, 2019: Tulane’s Black Law graduates had reached milestones, and gone beyond, what those early pioneers dreamed of.

Not only are Tulane’s black law alums taking leadership roles in business and industry, serving in Congress and running non-profits, but also they have joined the ranks of those serving on the bench, rising up the ranks to serve as "chiefs" of their courts, positions that deeply influence the legal process. 

Yet, it remains a select few who also can say they preside as chief judges in their respective court districts, both on the federal and local levels. During the reunion weekend, seven judges were present actively serving as the Chief Judge in their respective divisions.

"Diversity matters in the judiciary because the community is diverse," said Hon. Judge Karen Wells Roby L'87), Chief Magistrate for the Eastern District of Louisiana . "It is important for the credibility of the court and the comfort of the community to see judges serving in these roles who happen to come from the same community.  Diversity enhances impartiality because it means that there are more varied experiences and perspectives from which to draw on and apply the law.” 

Among those who joined Roby -- and who also carry the 'Chief' title --  in attending the reunion were: Judge Candice Bates Anderson (L’95); Judge Paulette Irons (L’91); Judge Asha Jackson (L’00); Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown (L’88); Judge Keva Landrum-Johnson (L’97); Judge Karen Wells Roby (L’87); and Judge Ulysses Thibodeaux (L’75).

Are you an alum serving as a chief judge? Tell us! 

Judge Candice Bates Anderson (L’95)

Anderson is the Chief Judge of the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court, elected in 2010. After graduating from Tulane, she clerked for the Hon. Judge Charles Imbornone of the First City Court before joining the firm of Beahm and Green. She was an in-house attorney for the Regional Transit Authority and the Housing Authority of New Orleans, and a partner in a firm she co-owned, Anderson and Darensburg.

Since joining the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court, she was the lead judge in juvenile drug court and was the deputy chief judge before taking the role as chief judge. During her tenure, the court has implemented a number of reforms to help young offenders stay out of trouble, and more recently ended the practice of keeping youthful offenders in jail when they could not afford bail.

Anderson is an active member of the New Orleans Bar Association, the Louisiana State Bar Association, and the National Association of Women Judges, the Louis Martinet Legal Society, NAACP, Fourth Circuit Judges Association, National Association of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Association Advisory Council, and the Louisiana Human Trafficking Prevention Commission and Advisory Board.

Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown (L’88)

Brown is the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District since 2018. New Orleans’ first African American City Attorney, she became the first black woman to be nominated to serve on Louisiana’s federal bench in 2012. She is the current Federal Bar Association President.

Prior to her appointment to the United States District Court and her work with the City of New Orleans, she was a partner with the firm of Chaffe McCall, LLP where she practiced commercial and environmental litigation, as well as real estate law and other transactional matters.

In addition to practicing law, Brown has been an educator and mentor, teaching through Tulane’s Environmental Law Clinic and the Southern University Law Center, and the Loyola College of Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice.

Judge Paulette Irons (L’91)

Irons is the Chief Judge of the Orleans Parish Civil District Court, Division M. In November of 1994 she became the second female member of the Louisiana Senate, where she served until 2006 representing the 4th District. She was elected to Civil District Court in 2004, and reelected in 2014.

While serving as a judge, she was the primary creator of a domestic violence court. As a state senator, Irons worked on legislative committees that included education, insurance and fiscal affairs. She was a member of the select committee on women and children and became a national leader in the prevention of teen pregnancies helping establish a number of state programs.

Irons has been recognized by Legislator of the Year by the Alliance for Good Government, HBO’s 10 Notable Women Leaders and Good Housekeeping Magazine’s Award for Women in Government.

Judge Asha F. Jackson (L’00)

Jackson is the Chief Superior Court Judge in DeKalb County, Ga., where she was appointed to the bench in 2012 by then-Gov. Nathan Deal, and twice elected in uncontested races. After graduating from Tulane, she clerked for her predecessor on the bench, Judge Michael Hancock.

Before that, Jackson was a partner practicing commercial litigation out of the Atlanta office of Barnes and Thornburg, LLP and tort litigation and professional negligence with Carlock, Copeland, and Stair, LLP. She has extensive experience with mass tort, personal injury, product liability, and professional negligence cases on behalf of corporate and individual defendants. Her more notable cases include the representation of NFL football star Ray Lewis in a civil suit arising out of two murders after the Atlanta Super bowl and the representation of a funeral home sued after the owner of a North Georgia crematory failed to cremate hundreds of bodies.

As a judge, she created Project Pinnacle, a one-year mandatory in-court experience for non-violent offenders under the age of 25, with a goal of discouraging them from offending again. She also is a founding judge of the felony mental health court in DeKalb County.

Jackson is an active member of the Atlanta Bar Association, the Gate City Bar Association, and the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys.

Judge Keva Landrum-Johnson (L’97)

Landrum-Johnson is the Chief Judge of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court since 2018, becoming the first African American woman to serve in that role. As a judge, she presides over criminal felony and misdemeanor cases. She was first elected to serve on the criminal court in 2008, and re-elected to a second term in 2015.

Landrum-Johnson was appointed as New Orleans’ first female District Attorney just before she was elected to the bench, her final stint after more than a decade working in the DA’s office. In that time, she worked to re-establish the public’s trust in the office, fought contractor fraud, and brought the first Forensic DNA summit to the city of New Orleans.  In her decade in the DA’s office, she served in a multitude of roles, including assistant district attorney, a homicide and sex crimes screener, chief of the juvenile division and screening division.

Judge Karen Wells Roby (L’87)

Roby is the Chief United States Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana.  She has served on the court for 21 years where she serves on the court’s technology committee. She has been active in the American Bar Association during her tenure on the bench and has served in various leadership roles and was responsible for the success of the Diverse Leaders Academy and the Professional Success Summit (PSS).  The PSS gathered diverse leaders for three days to train future leaders in the areas of marketing, branding and networking.

Additionally, Roby served in 2012 as President of the Federal Magistrate Judges Association (“FMJA”), a national organization of over 600 U.S. Magistrate Judges across the country. As President of the Association she worked to secure pay raises for all active and recently retired federal magistrate judges.

Roby serves on the Dean’s Advisory Board of Tulane Law School and is an Adjunct Professor. She teaches a course on E-Discovery and Digital Evidence.  She was the chair of the Tulane Law School’s Black Alumni Reunion held in February 2019. As chair of the reunion committee, Roby also was the visionary for the Tulane’s BLA Newsletter, which was first launched after the reunion and now issues quarterly. 

Roby recently joined other notables at the Georgetown Advanced E-Discovery Institute where she did an eDTalk on Diversity on the E-Team highlighting the importance of diversity on E-Discovery.

Her commitment to the community is unsurpassed.  She was integral in saving her high school, has served as the coordinating judge over a pipeline program in New Orleans for the last nine years, and is a mentor to area young female lawyers where she hosts a quarterly round table to discuss issues of interest and dispenses sage advice on career goals and challenges.

Before receiving her JD at Tulane, Roby received her undergraduate degree from Xavier University.

Judge Ulysses Thibodaux (L’75)


Thibodeaux is the Chief Judge of the Third Circuit Court of Appeal, where he has served since 1992.  He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Tulane Law School, where he was honored as part of the 2017 Hall of Fame inductees.

Thibodaux has had a pioneering legal career since his graduation in the early days of the law school’s integration.  He practiced law in New York City before moving to Lake Charles. He was a leader in changing Louisiana’s method of selecting judges, which led to more African Americans in the judiciary.

 He has been president of The National Council of Chief Judges, chaired the Task Force on Judicial Independence and co-chaired the Louisiana Supreme Court Task Force on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts. He received the National Bar Association’s Judge A. Leon Higginbotham Award for Judicial Excellence in 2010 and its Thurgood Marshall Award in 2009 for serving as an exemplary role model.