Miller ready for challenge as appellate court judge

Staff Report

Steve Miller, who won a race last week judge on the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal, says he looks forward to the transition and changes his new post will bring him.

Miller, R-Thibodeaux, won the seat Nov. 8 when he defeated Tanner Magee, R-Houma, in a race for the seat currently held by Vanessa Guidry-Whipple, who chose not to run for re-election.

Steve Miller

Miller, a native of Lockport, will take the bench for the Court of Appeal after serving eight years as a district court judge in District 17. He has also served as a felony prosecutor and assistant District Attorney from 2003-14 and served as a private attorney for more than 20 years.

“I’ve already been hearing from the judges in the First Circuit, getting a lot of support,” he said. “Being a judge for eight years, I’m pretty familiar with the system.”

The Louisiana Court of Appeal, First Circuit, is one of five circuit courts of appeal in Louisiana.

The First Circuit consists of 12 judges and has jurisdiction over 16 parishes in southeastern Louisiana – Ascension, Assumption, East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, West Feliciana, Iberville, Lafourche, Livingston, Pointe Coupee, St. Helena, St. Mary, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Terrebonne and Washington.

The First Circuit Courthouse is located in Baton Rouge.

The vast area made the campaign a daunting task. It led him to zigzag across southeastern Louisiana to meet with school boards, along local and parish governments and other entities.

“It was a big area, and it meant a lot of driving, leaving work and taking off to a council meeting or school board meeting in so many different parishes,” Miller said.

The transition will come with a learning curve. Yet, he said he’s confident that the shift from criminal court to appeals court will be a smooth change.

“I think it would be arrogant to say there won’t be a learning curve … you always should be learning,” Miller said. “But I have a feeling that as much as I can, I’ll be ready to jump in and get rolling.”

The toughest transition may involve the difference in pace between the two courts.

An appeals court has an enormous impact on the judicial system, but it does not bring the large crowds normally seen in a criminal trial.

It’s also a slower pace, he said.

“It may take a while to adjust to the pace,” Miller said. “We’re used to being in court with litigants, but this is a whole different thing, and I look forward to it.”

Judges are used to being in a court filled with litigants, but an appeals court will bring Miller a far different experience.

He said, with due respect to trial courts and judges, that criminal court involves a lot of decisions “made on the fly,” with a lot of moving parts involved.

“The 1st Circuit is the higher court, but it’s an entirely different ballgame and my experience prepares me to do that work … I’m ready for that new challenge,” he said. “I’m anxious to see how the transition will be going from a courtroom full of people and the noise and the activity of the courtroom, to the calmer, quieter reading of briefs, and the reading and writing… it's a lot quieter, and a lot less action, but the decisions you make have an effect well beyond your courtroom.”

All courts rely on the 1st Circuit Court decisions to maintain uniformity.

“It’s less of a matter of what you want as a judge, as compared to what the trial court judge did, and it shows whether or not that judge or that jury acted within the authority they have to make the decision,” Miller said. “You have to accept the decisions of the trial courts as long as they’re made properly and within the discretion.

“I hope I can maintain the tradition Judge Whipple set … it has a lot of powerful intellects and history,” he said. “It’s a big court, and a busy court with a lot of appellate courts in Louisiana, and I’m excited to be a part of that club.”