Your Honor: Judge Michelle Breaux's Interview in The Promulgator
She has been married to Brian Breaux for twenty-four years, and has two children, Brennan, a sophomore at LSU, and Avery, a senior at St. Thomas More Catholic High School. Upon her graduation from law school in 1990, Judge Breaux served as a clerk to Judge Bradford Ware. In 1992, Judge Breaux went to work for the Public Defender Office and started her own private practice. In 1994, she was the coordinator of the Families in Need of Service Program for Lafayette Parish (FINS) until 1999. Thereafter, in 1995, she joined the District Attorney's Office. Judge Breaux co-founded the Juvenile Drug Court in 2002, and established a truancy court for the Lafayette Parish School System. She also served for nineteen years as a Magistrate for the City of Scott and as an adjunct criminal justice professor at UL. Judge Breaux is active in the community, and is the 2016-2017 President of the St. Thomas More Advisory Council.
When did you decide that you wanted to enter the legal profession?
During my eighth grade year, we performed a mock trial. I really enjoyed that experience, and it was at that point that I realized the legal field, and being a lawyer, might be fun. And as always, my parents would say “oh, she's a great arguer, she should be a lawyer.” They told me: “You could argue with the fence post.”
From that point on, I was focused on entering the legal profession. I graduated from USL with a degree in political science, and then I went on to get a paralegal degree from the ABA accredited school in Atlanta Georgia. I worked as a paralegal for a little over a year before entering law school.
Did you always plan to run for judge?
When Judge Clause, whose division I took over, began talking about retirement because of the mandatory age limit, several people approached me and put the bug in my ear to run. But I dismissed it. That was not something that I never really considered
A couple of weeks before my dad died, he called me, as he often did, and said, “I hear you're running for judge.” My immediate response was NO. I told him that I had “no desire” to run.
In June, a friend of mine called me and informed me that my father, had – unbeknownst to me – began laying a foundation for me to run for judge. I said “OK. I'm going to finish the journey. Win lose or draw – he started it, and I'll finish it.” And I picked it up from there.
Are you glad you made the decision?
How has it been so far?
It's been great. My background was in criminal law more than civil law, but I have absolutely enjoyed the civil side of it. It has rejuvenated me. I was most apprehensive about the civil law side of being a judge, but that is now my passion. Every time I take the bench there is something new, and that is enjoyable to me.
How has being a judge impacted your view of the legal profession? Is there anything that you have learned as a judge that you wish you would have known when you were practicing law?
Yes. Number one is preparedness. When I walk into the courtroom, it is obvious to me who is prepared and who is not. Second is the demeanor of attorneys when they address the court and when they address each other. When you're an attorney, you do not realize it because you are caught up in the dialogue, but it's quite a different perspective when you're sitting on the bench. So I would have been more aware of my tone, my facial expressions, and remembering that a courtroom is a place of respect.
A lot has been said about the decline in professionalism among attorneys. Is that something that you've notice in the 15th JDC?
From a professionalism standpoint, I see many examples of attorneys failing to follow procedural and simple rules of court, whether the local rules, the rules of civil procedure or other procedural rules – but those rules are there for a reason and I'm a stickler for following them.
On the other hand, my colleagues in the legal profession are very gracious and very respectful. It's a pleasure to work with them.
As a seasoned attorney and now as a judge, what advice would you give to a young lawyer who is just starting out in his or her career?
First, I would say that he or she must have respect for the profession. Second, I would say that he or she should not be afraid to ask for help or seek out a mentor. Coming out of law school, we all know a lot of black letter law, but as to the actual practice of law – how to confirm a default, how to issue a simple subpoena – we often do not know how to do it. So find a mentor. If you have a question, don't be afraid to pick up the phone and ask one of the many seasoned attorneys in this area. Third, look at the rules of court and know them before you appear in any court. Don't be afraid to tell the judge on a sidebar if you're making your first appearance in court. I don't think there's a judge on the bench that would not be respectful of that attorney and guide them in any way that he or she could.
Who has influenced you most in your career? Who do you draw on for inspiration?
There are several people. I have been very fortunate in my career – and I tell myself that every day. I have been fortunate that lots of people helped me along the way. Someone who was there for me from the beginning was Judge Durwood Conque, who is now retired. He guided me and was always there if I needed anything. Mr. Jimmy Davidson was another individual who I knew I could rely upon if I ever needed help. To this day, I know that I can always pick up the phone and give him a call. And when I was practicing domestic law, I worked in the same office as Diane Sorola. I watched her closely – what she did, how prepared she was. I knew that, for each of these individuals, the door was always open for me. They guided me through the years, and I'm truly thankful for them and for many others. I can't say it enough.
That touches upon what you said regarding the importance of having a mentor.
Absolutely. I could give you an extensive list of people that, to this day, I could pick up the phone and call. I practiced in front of Judge Tommy Duplantier and Judge Herman Clause as an Assistant District Attorney. There was never a day that, if I had an issue about juvenile court or any other issue, I could not go and sit down with either one of them and say, “help me out, can we brainstorm.” So that's why I harp on the importance of mentors. But it doesn't have to be a judge or even an attorney. You know, my secretary has been in the legal field for thirty-five years. She knows just as much, if not more, than you and I. So as long as you feel comfortable picking up the phone and asking the question, there are plenty of people who want to help. It truly is a collaborative effort.
What do you do when you are not sitting behind the bench? What are your hobbies?
My hobbies are my children. God has blessed both of my children with athletic ability. My son plays baseball for LSU. From February to June I'm at the ballpark every weekend – and sometimes during the week. My daughter is a volleyball player and a basketball player, so From August to February I'm with her at some event. And that is truly my life – my children. I love every minute of it and wouldn't do it any other way.
The annual Bench Bar Conference is coming up. I know that you attended last year. Would you encourage members of the bar to take advantage of the opportunity to attend?
Yes. I regret not taking advantage of it when I was a practicing lawyer. What better opportunity does one have to sit with members of the judiciary and members of the bar – young and old – in a very relaxed atmosphere? It is such a prime opportunity to meet people that I don't know – to sit at a roundtable and discuss legal issues, to go to dinner, to attend CLEs. It was truly a neat experience for me because every one of us can learn something from every other person in the room. Whether you're a first year law student or you're in your first year as a member of the judiciary – we can all learn something from each other. I really appreciate that.
Moreover, you get to see the personal side of the judges and lawyers who attend. A lot of the time, we only see each other at meetings or in the courtroom. We don't actually see each other in a relaxed setting. It's nice to interact with colleagues on a personal level. I thoroughly enjoy what I do as a judge, but that's not technically who I am. When I take off the robe, I'm Michelle Breaux. I'm not Judge Breaux twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Because of the robe, I can't engage as much as I would like, but the Bench Bar is truly a perfect venue for interacting on a personal level. And that helps to builds mutual respect between members of the bench and bar.
Click here to view a downloadable PDF of the interview.