3rd Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Jonathan Perry joined Discover Lafayette to share his journey of public service.
From his days growing up in Kaplan in a single-parent household with little money to the achievement of a law degree, service in the Legislature as a State Representative and Senator, and now as a Judge on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal, his inspirational message is of the importance of hard work and perseverance in achieving your dreams.
A native and lifelong resident of Kaplan, Judge Perry received a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from Northeast Louisiana University, which is now the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
Perry always wanted to be a Louisiana State Trooper, but it hadn’t worked out for him. So, at the age of 25, he joined the Kaplan Police Department where his uncle and politically savvy Police Chief Steve Perry had been trying to hire him. While a cadet in training at A.L.E.T.A. (Acadiana Law Enforcement Training Academy) in New Iberia, he was elected Cadet President and received The John “Dooley” Hardy award which is bestowed to the Hardest Working Cadet. While at the Academy, he was also inspired by a visiting Assistant U. S. District Attorney who “lit a fire in him” and who encouraged him to pursue a career in law.
Judge Perry has the utmost respect for law enforcement and its professionals who serve with low pay and high risk, and he proudly rose to the rank of Sergeant during his service. “I loved being a police officer more than anything I’ve ever done up to this point in my life. I loved the interaction, being with people, and serving.” Yet he was one of the few officers that had a college degree which defied the norm at that time; he decided to pursue higher education and took the LSAT (Law School Admission Test), studying while continuing to work with the department. When he didn’t make a high enough score on the LSAT the first time, he became determined to pass and studied even harder, thereafter being accepted into Southern Law School.
During his third year of law school, he began his political career when he was elected to the Kaplan City Council at the age of 28. He jumped into politics because he saw that many young people in Acadiana were leaving small towns, including Kaplan, and he explained, “There were no young people in elected positions, no young professionals. Who was going to represent the young families? Who’s going to represent me? They were moving out and I wanted to stay home. We need someone with fire.”
In 2007, Perry, a conservative Republican, was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives to serve District 47, representing Cameron and Vermilion Parishes. At that time, he was shocked to see how he was received by other House members. As a former police officer, Assistant D. A, with a flat top hairstyle, people assumed they couldn’t work with him. “It was such a disappointment, I can be friends with everyone and be empathetic to their views. I don’t judge based upon color, party affiliation.”
Then in 2011, he won a special election for Senate District 26, which covers portions of Acadia, Lafayette, St. Landry, and Vermilion Parishes. He calls the Senate “the Country Club.” It’s quiet in the Senate chambers, with only 39 members and the desks spread out. There is a sense of decorum as members have to walk down to the well and face the other Senators as they share their thoughts. Perry believes that service in both chambers is beneficial and “your better legislators serve first in the House and then the Senate. They know the rules and procedures on both sides. And you have to build relationships.”
Perry shared how partisan and backstabbing politics can take its toll on elected officials and that he seriously considered resigning from office. “I had promised myself and others that if ‘Baton Rouge’ changed me, I’m out. Social media has changed everything in our lives and particularly elected officials’ lives. It started for me around 2015 – 2016 when someone pulled an interview segment totally out of context and ripped me and my family apart. I seriously considered resigning from the Senate. I sat with my pastor and the Senate Chaplain to discuss this.” The Chaplain counseled him to reconsider and convinced him that he was fulfilling his calling….”to stay in office until you find someone to take your place.”
On November 6, 2018, Perry had an opportunity to serve on a different level and was elected to the 3rd District of the Third Circuit Court of Appeal and assumed office on January 1, 2019. He is one of very few who have served in all three branches of government: Executive, Legislative and Judicial.
The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal covers a 21-Parish area from Iberia Parish up to Sabine Parish. There are twelve elected judges, each either running in a sub-district or at large for ten-year terms. Litigants who believe an erroneous decision was made at the district/trial court level have the right to appeal the result and will appear before a three judge panel who review the record. If a fact wasn’t brought up in the lower court hearing, the 3rd Circuit is not able to consider it when rendering its opinion.
In 2003 (also during his Senior Year of law school!), Judge Perry entered the world of professional comedy. He brought his wife to Cajun Comic Relief, a fundraiser that used to be held to benefit Goodwill Industries. While sitting there, he realized he wanted to try his hand at comedy. While he never considered himself “funny,” he loved to make people laugh.
Perry decided to enter the International Cajun Joke Telling Contest in Opelousas which was slated just six weeks later. He recorded comedy material on a cassette tape and practiced it over and over as he drove the 92 miles to and 92 miles back from law school each day. He recounted the excitement of appearing onstage at the Yambilee Festival stage in Opelousas before an audience of over 600 people. Judged on the cleanliness of jokes, authentic Cajun accent, and delivery of jokes within the allotted time period given each contestant, Perry won and was named “King of the International Cajun Joke Telling Contest” that night.
Perry is referred to as “The Cajun Ambassador”. He has been featured on television and in newspapers throughout the US, in addition to having performed at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and Washington D.C. He credits such Cajun Comedian mentors as Murray Conque, Kent Gonsoulin, A. J. Smith, Dave Petitjean, and others he worked with on the All-Star Cajun Comedy Tour who counseled him as he finetuned his delivery and helped his comedic approach mature in over 150 shows they did together. “They knocked fifteen years off of my trial and error period…they taught me on the spot, helped me find my rhythm.”
Perry is still performing Cajun Comedy acts for private corporate events. He explains his love of comedy and the relief it affords people who are going through trying times. “Comedy gives people the time to escape their problems. When you are at your best, for 30 to 45 minutes you can help people forget about the late mortgage payments, marital problems, and other issues in their life.” Comedy is a gift of love that Perry shares with his audiences.
We thank Judge Jonathan Perry for his life of public service and for his God-given ability to make us laugh! And, please listen to the whole interview. Only Judge Perry can tell his story in the way it should be told. He is humble and self-effacing, but don’t let that fool you. He’s the cream of the crop! May his message inspire those who need a gentle nudge….that they can do it, they can succeed with effort and perseverance.