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Bernard John "Ben" Bagert, Jr.

Ben Bagert

In office
1970 – 1984
Preceded by Thomas A. Early, Jr.
Succeeded by Garey Forster

In office
1984 – 1992
Preceded by Michael H. O'Keefe, Jr.
Succeeded by Marc Morial

Born January 1944(aged 64)
New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Political party Democrat-turned-Republican
Occupation Attorney

Bernard John "Ben" Bagert, Jr. (born January 10, 1944) is a prominent New Orleans attorney who was a member of both houses of the Louisiana State Legislature from 1970-1992. As a legislator, Bagert was known as a politician who did not follow structured party dogma. A cultural and economic conservative with a pro-environment orientation, he was the first Louisiana legislator to warn of "Louisiana's tragic loss of wetland habitat." He consistently opposed taxes and the expansion of government programs adn enacted bills to reform the "welfare laws" that were then in effect.

Bagert has been recognized as one of New Orleans' "Top Lawyers" by New Orleans Magazine. When not practicing law, he volunteers with public charities that assist developmentally disabled citizens. He is President of Triumph of Special People, Inc., the former Chairman of the Metropolitan Human Services District, and the former President of We Care for Special People, Inc.

In 1990, Bagert mounted a Republican challenge to entrenched encumbant Democratic U.S. Senator J. Bennett Johnston, Jr. of Shreveport. The controversial former Ku Klux Klansman, David Duke, also entered the race as a Republican. Although Duke was opposed by the Republican Party, he gathered immense media attention and significant support from traditionally Democratic and union voters, which made him a dangerous candidate. At the time, Republican and Democratic candidates for Congress ran simultaneously in Louisiana's "Jungle Primary." As the election drew near, it became apparent to Bagert that he would run third and that Duke would likely defeat Johnston in the anticipated runoff election. Asserting that the election of Duke would set back emerging conservative principles for many years, Bagert withdrew from the race two days before the election to ensure Duke's early defeat without a runoff.

In 1991, Bagert did not seek reelection to the Louisiana State Senate, instead running as the Republican choice for Attorney General in an unsuccessful bid to succeed the retiring William J. "Billy" Guste, Jr., also of New Orleans.

Bagert then returned full time to his successful law practice and has never since sought public elective office. He has been elected several times to Republican Party office, [the Republican State Central Committee], has been a delegate to the National Republican Convention, and has been the lawyer for Robert Dole and Elizabeth Dole in each of their presidential campaigns.

Contents

Early years and education

Bagert is a graduate of Jesuit High School in New Orleans and of Loyola University School of Law in New Orleans in 1968. He was a "Blue Key" National Honor Fraternity member and the president of the student body in law school. While in college, he won boxing tournaments which led to part-time work as a longshoreman on the Mississippi River. The friendships he made during this period were an important factor in his early political success.

Bagert is admitted to the practice of law before the United States Supreme Court, the Fifth and Eleventh Circuit U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals, the Louisiana Supreme Court, and other lesser courts. Bagert has written textbooks on Louisiana succession and family law. His law firm is located at 650 Poydras Street adjacent to the federal courthouse in New Orleans. He has practiced primarily in Louisiana, but has handled cases in Texas, Mississippi, and Florida. The firm handles administrative law, business law, federal criminal defense and conspiracy, construction law, wills and estates, trusts, and insurance defense.

Bagert's younger brother, Broderick A. Bagert, Sr., is a former member of the New Orleans City Council. As young men, the Bagerts were an unbeatable team on the New Orleans political scene. They were among the first to rely on computer technology to enhance campaign operations. Brod Bagert (born 1947) retired from politics and is a poet, lecturer, and author of children's books.

Six legislative elections as a Democrat

At twenty-five, Bagert won a special election for the [[Louisiana House of Representatives. Bagert won full terms to the state House in 1972, 1975, and 1979. He was a member of the "Young Turks" reformers led by future Speaker E.L. "Bubba" Henry of Jonesboro in Jackson Parish and Robert G. "Bob" Jones of Lake Charles in Calcasieu Parish, the son of former Governor Sam Houston Jones. Bagert often questioned certain state expenditures. In the spring of 1972, for instance, he asked why the state continued to spend $214,488 per year to maintain the Louisiana Livestock Brand Commission, which he described as a useless entity whose members "ride around looking for stolen cows and checking brands on cows."[1] In the House, Bagert held leadership positions including the Chairmanships of the Criminal Justice Committee and the Commerce, Insurance, and Banking Committee.

In 1983, he was elected to the first of two terms to the state Senate. In his last election victory, in the 1987 jungle primary, Bagert defeated his opponent by a huge margin: 23,953 (89 percent) to 3,043 (11 percent).

During his legislative service, Bagert received accolades from a variety of good government, environmental, and conservative organizations. The Alliance for Good Government named him Legislator of the Year in 1973, 1983, and 1985. Friends of the Environment and Citizens for Clean Environment honored him with the Brown Pelican Award in 1991 as he was the first Louisiana State official to address the near extinction of the Brown Pelican, which is the Louisiana State Bird and appears on the State Seal, in 1971, when he authored measures to prevent programs that expended public funds for the aerial application of the pesticide Mirex, a chlorinated hydrocarbon that is similar to DDT. He was also named Conservationist of the Year by the National and Louisiana Wildlife Federation in 1986 for his work to salvage depleted Redfish and Speckled Trout stocks and in 1988 for his work to abate wetlands loss.

The aborted campaign against Bennett Johnston

Bagert was the official Republican Party choice to challenge Democratic Senator Johnston in the 1990 primary. Former KKK leader, David Duke, ran as well and won the support of many traditionally Democratic blue collar voters. Virginia Republican leader and Iran-Contra figure Oliver L. North campaigned for Bagert, four years before North would make his own ill-fated Senate race against Senator Charles Robb, a son-in-law of Lyndon B. Johnson.

Bagert's list of contributors includes Governor David C. Treen, the state's first Republican congressman and governor since Reconstruction; Bryan Wagner, the first GOP member elected in modern times to the New Orleans City Council; John Hainkel, a Democrat and later Republican member of the state Senate from an Orleans-area district; party chairmen James H. Boyce (shortly before his death) of Baton Rouge, George Despot of Shreveport, Donald Bollinger of Lockport, and William "Billy" Nungesser of New Orleans; Louis Roussel, a businessman and financier who had bankrolled campaigns of earlier Democrats, including William J. "Bill" Dodd; future Congressman and U.S. Senator David Vitter of Metairie; the late "Cajun" humorist, chef, and former Democrat Justin Wilson; Dalton Woods, a Shreveport oilman and friend of President George Herbert Walker Bush; state Representative Clark Gaudin of Baton Rouge, New Orleans businessman James A. Noe, son of a former Democratic governor; future U.S. Senate candidate Suzanne Haik Terrell, another former member of the New Orleans City Council; former state Senator "Bob" Jones, the Lake Charles stockbroker; and even a Texas-Louisiana businessman, Albert Bel Fay, who had once been the Republican national committeeman from Texas.

Although Bagert campaigned hard, he continued to trail Duke an Johnston in the public opinion polls. In the week before the primary, U.S. Senators John C. Danforth of Missouri and Ted Stevens of Alaska announced that they were "supporting" their Democratic colleague Johnston. When it became clear to Bagert that by continuing the battle he would only improve Duke's chances, he withdrew so that a Duke runoff election could be avoided. Many of Bagert's campaign advisers protested this action bitterly in the belief that such action would damage his political career. Bagert knew they were right, but replied, "I do not want my footnote in history to read: 'His persistence led to the election of a man who tarnished American conservatism for many years.'"

Johnston won reelection to his fourth and final term with 753,198 votes (54 percent) to Duke's 607,091 (43 percent). Another 3 percent was shared by two minor Democratic candidates. Many in the Republican establishment voted for Johnston even though they had recruited Bagert to try to unseat Johnston. It was not to be the last time that state party leaders would also vote for a Democrat to block Duke. A year later, many Republicans supported discredited Governor Edwin Washington Edwards in order to thwart the gubernatorial candidacy of Duke.

The Louisiana Code of Evidence

After nearly two centuries of failed attempts to codify Louisiana's evidence law, Bagert succeeded in enacting an Evidence Code in 1988.1

The evidentiary reform movement began in Britain in the early nineteenth century under the leadership of Jeremy Bentham. “Within a short time of the publication of Bentham's ‘Theory of Judicial Evidence’ in 1818, Louisiana's great Edward Livingston2 (America's Bentham, as he was characterized by Wigmore) prepared and proposed to the Louisiana Legislature a Code of Evidence for this state, designed to govern proceedings in both civil and criminal cases. Had it been adopted, the development of evidence law in the United States might well have been very different. However . . . the Livingston Evidence Code was not adopted by the Louisiana Legislature, and more than a century and a half was to elapse before an evidence code for Louisiana would finally be adopted.2

By the middle of the twentieth century, Louisiana evidence law had become notoriously murky and uncertain.

This confusion led to a second attempt at codification in 1956. After some ten years of effort, the Louisiana Law Institute abandoned the project, in part because the contending forces simply could not agree . . . .

In 1979 the quest for an evidence code was renewed by Ben Bagert, a state legislator who was also a lawyer with an active litigation practice. By then, a Federal Evidence Code had been adopted and Bagert had experienced, first hand, how justice was better served when the court and the litigants had a rule book to guide them. Because Bagert believed that these benefits were achievable in state court proceedings, he persuaded the Legislature to direct that a code of evidence be drafted.3 Following this directive, the Louisiana Law Institute again accepted the challenge of compiling a code and a proposal was published and submitted to the legislature in 1986. As with the Livingston Code and the 1956 attempt by the Law Institute, the Proposed Code proved controversial. What the plaintiff bar liked, the defense bar disliked. What prosecutors abhorred, criminal defense lawyers applauded. The Proposed Code did not come out of committee in the 1986 legislature. In the 1987 session, another stalemate4 blocked the adoption of Bagert’s bill proposing an Evidence Code.

Observers of the legislature were predicting a similar fate for the Proposed Code in the 1988 legislative session; however, as lead author of the bill, Bagert had been conducting frequent meetings with the competing forces who had doomed the codes of prior years. On the night before his bill was to be considered by Senate Committee, Senator Bagert, sensing that a compromise was achievable, convened a meeting of opposing factions in the Senate basement. In attendance besides Senator Bagert were Kerry Triche, of the Louisiana Law Institute; Jack Martzell, of the Louisiana Trial Lawyers Association; John Mamoulides and Bernie Boudreaux, district attorneys representing the District Attorneys Association; and Robert Glass, Frank Desalvo, James E. Boren, and John Reed, eminent criminal defense lawyers. Just before midnight a compromise was achieved and additional amendments were drafted for consideration by the committee when morning arrived.

On the ensuing day, legislative observers were stunned to see that the competing adversaries had agreed to the enactment of an evidence code as amended.

After the compromise, Senator Bagert’s bill was enacted by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Buddy Roemer.

1 Senate Bill 155 by Senator Ben Bagert became Act 515 of 1988. 2 Edward Livingston (May 26, 1764––May 23, 1836) was a prominent American jurist and statesman. He was an influential figure in the drafting of the Louisiana Civil Code of 1825, a civil code based largely on the Napoleonic Code. He represented both New York, and later Louisiana in Congress and he served as the U.S. Secretary of State from 1831 to 1833. 249 La. L. Rev. 689

3 La. H.R. Con. Res. 250, Reg. Sess. (1979) by Representative Ben Bagert 4 Senate Bill by Senator Bagert was rejected.

The campaign for attorney general, 1991

In 1991, Bagert ran for Attorney General. He faced a formidable opponent in Richard Ieyoub, a lawyer from Lake Charles. Ieyoub won the race. The Attorney General's race was the last campaign that Bagert waged. He has since concentrated on his successful law practice.

In 1996, Bagert was a Louisiana delegate to the Republican National Convention in San Diego, which nominated the unsuccessful Robert J. Dole and Jack French Kemp ticket.

Bagert's home in the Lakeview area of New Orleans was flooded in Hurricane Katrina. The damage occurred when the nearby 17th Street Canal broke during the storm. He now resides in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie.

Preceded by
Thomas A. Early, Jr.
Louisiana State Representative from District 24 (later 98) (Orleans Parish

Bernard John "Ben" Bagert, Jr.
1970–1984

Succeeded by
Garey Forster
Preceded by
Michael H. O'Keefe, Jr.
Louisiana State Senator from District 4 (Orleans Parish)

Bernard John "Ben" Bagert, Jr.
1984–1992

Succeeded by
Marc Morial

References

  1. ^ Charles Leyton, United Press International, "Bagert Says Commission Wastes Taxpayers' Funds, June 2, 1972

http://www.newsmeat.com/campaign_contributions_to_politicians/donor_list.php?candidate_id=S0LA00055&li=V

http://www.bagertlaw.com/

http://www.time.com/time/archive/printout/0,23657,971358,00.html

http://www.bestofneworleans.com/dispatch/2002-08-20/politics.html

http://www.siliconinvestor.com/readmsg.aspx?msgid=16530986

http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/1996/conventions/san.diego/facts/delegate.profile/LA.shtml

http://www.sos.louisiana.gov:8090/cgibin/?rqstyp=elcms2&rqsdta=111691

http://www.sos.louisiana.gov:8090/cgibin/?rqstyp=elcms2&rqsdta=100690

http://www.sos.louisiana.gov:8090/cgibin/?rqstyp=elcpr&rqsdta=10248736

http://www.djournal.com/pages/story.asp?ID=203947&pub=1&div=News

http://ssdi.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/ssdi.cgi?lastname=KIEFER&start=3041

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