LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Former Governor Edwin Edwards focused on understanding the relevance of having African American judges and lawyers at the Louisiana Judicial Council of The National Bar Association's annual luncheon in Lake Charles.
The group primarily comprised of African American judges and lawyers met up at the Holiday Inn & Suites on Feb. 25.
Many attorneys and judges thanked Edwards for what he legally accomplished 20 years ago in the realm of allowing the chance of more African American judges.
"Years ago I was involved in some legislation and some legislative action which made it possible for the black community to have the opportunity to elect black judges," Edwards said.
As of 2011, on a per capita basis, Louisiana had more judges out of the minority community than any other state in the nation. In fact, Edwards added that Louisiana had more African American appellate judges than California, New York or Texas.
Before 1992, there were six African American judges in the state of Louisiana, as of February 2012 there are 78 African American judges.
"That is very important because a third of our population is in the black community. I thought/think that they [black community] should have the right to vote on black lawyers who wanted to be judges. And I think they [black judges and attorneys] have served the legal community and the general population very well," Edwards said.
Edwards was very candid about race relations in the United States after having elected an African American President to office in 2008.
"I think for those people having a willingness to accept differences in the races, it has been helpful. But to those who have the blind spot, it just made them more angry," Edwards said.
Many at the luncheon questioned the Governor's health after last month's news reports of his bout with pneumonia.
"My health is very good. I just got out of the hospital with a slight case of pneumonia but I was out in two days. I am back on my feet. At 84-years-old, very blessed with good health," Edwards said.
Edwards said he had been involved in politics for 45 years. He was Governor for 16 years.
"If I had been able to, I would have run for Governor this time. In a way, I am kind of glad I couldn't because I think I would have won and then I'd have all these problems to worry about," Edwards said. "I think I could have done a better job. I am more responsive to people. I am part of Louisiana. I understand every segment of our society, every geographical area."
"I love this state. I love the people. And I think they understand me, even the ones who don't particularly like me,"
The National Bar Association is the largest and oldest group for African American lawyers and judges.
Judge Edwin Lombard, 4th Circuit Court of Appeals New Orleans, will be sworn in as the President of Louisiana Judicial Council. Lombard said the Association not only mentors other lawyers and judges but also encourages youth and offers up scholarships.
"A lot of people don't see those role models out there. We have 70-something African American judges in the state of Louisiana," Lombard said.
Baton Rouge's Judge Yvette Mansfield-Alexander is National Chair of the National Bar Association. Alexander said there are still challenges with race relations in this country.
"You would presume that because we have an African American president and because we have more African American elected officials," Alexander said. "But what happens when these things occur is that the people who are the underlying forces that are against this, they change up what they are doing which makes it even harder."
Chief Judge Gene Thibodeaux, 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal State of Louisiana, said the focus of the association is understanding the concepts of pluralism and diversity. "Every group and every individual is afforded the right to exist and develop fully. And we are all part of this society called America. It reminds me of what the poet Langston Hughes said I, too, sing America ," Thibodeaux said.
The Louisiana Judicial Council offered up scholarships at all four law schools in the state of Louisiana. Aspiring minority law school students who planned on attending Tulane, Loyola, Southern and LSU have been scholarship recipients.