Michele Billeaud, candidate for 15th Judicial District Court Judge in Lafayette Parish joined Jan Swift of the Discover Lafayette podcast.
The election will be held on November 3, 2020, and is slated to have a high turnout as it coincides with many other local races such as District Attorney, City Marshall, and of course, the presidential election. Billeaud is running for Judge in Division “K” which has 115,000 registered voters and encompasses Youngsville, Broussard, most of Scott and Duson, and a majority of the City of Lafayette located south of Cameron Street.
Billeaud started her legal career 26 years ago. A New Orleans native, she took time off after college to follow her best friend and move out to California. While the adventure was fun, she realized that she needed to figure out “what to do with her life.” She studied law in California and on the day she graduated, returned home to study and take the Louisiana bar exam.
Billeaud’s first job was in the Orleans Parish DA’s Office where she had a heavy caseload and gained invaluable experience trying all levels of criminal cases. While working there, she met Lawrence “Moose” Billeaud, a Lafayette native. The couple dated long-distance before she moved to Lafayette when they got married. While Moose is one of 17 children in the close-knit and loving family of the late Bozo and Millie Billeaud, he told Michele they could live anywhere she wanted; Michele had fallen in love with Lafayette when she visited and elected to start their married life here. The couple have two children, Ethan and Quinn.
Billeaud joined the law firm of Lisa Brener in Lafayette and handled civil matters such as divorce, child custody, age discrimination, and sexual harassment claims. Upon Brener’s retirement, Billaud started her own law firm; she also worked for the Lafayette Parish Public Defender’s Office where she was appointed Section Chief in charge of all full-time public defenders as a result of the extensive criminal law experience she had garnered in the Orleans DA’s office.
Since January 2002, Billeaud has worked as an Assistant District Attorney in Lafayette Parish. She serves as felony track leader, trying everything from felony theft to the most violent crimes.
A founding team member of the Lafayette Parish Drug Court Program, Billeaud is “a big proponent of specialty courts.” The drug court helps nonviolent offenders get back on track by getting appropriate treatment, obtain job training, find employment, adequate shelter, and other things necessary to turn their lives around. She believes that anytime you can help someone help themselves, it’s good for our community. Billeaud recounted that she’s seen people she previously tried cases against show up in court to help others get into drug court so that they may also become a healthy, contributing member of society.
Under the direction of Judge Jules Edwards, Lafayette has also set up a Veteran’s specialty Court; Billeaud would also like to see the addition of a Mental Health Court to help those most vulnerable and who end up in jail due to a lack of resources to obtain help.
Billeaud loves being in court and says the most fun part of being an attorney is” having to think on your feet.” She enjoys being a prosecutor and feels a calling for public service and working in the public sector. She never thought about running for judge. But when the current Division “K” Judge Rick Michot was rendered incapable of running for re-election due to the Louisiana age requirement, she was approached by others who encouraged her to run.
Billeaud believes she brings the necessary experience to the table to serve the community as a judge, as well as the appropriate temperament to be a good judge, which first and foremost is respect for all parties. “Respect costs nothing. It’s important to show respect to all parties. The attorneys have spent time preparing, the clients and their families are worried.”
Billeaud believes in rehabilitation over incarceration when appropriate. She explains that “I’ve been in the DA’s office for 20 years. If a violent offender has hurt someone, they need to be held accountable. But to help non-violent offenders get their lives back in order, all of us benefit, all of society. It also frees up our jails and allows courts to handle other matters. To help people help themselves to lead a law-abiding life and help them on that road is what we need to do.”