Meet the Candidate: Tara Farris Zeller

Published 1:25 pm Sunday, October 1, 2023

This is part of the Meet the Candidate series for the upcoming elections.

The candidate featured here is Tara Farris Zeller who is running for Judge, Division B, 22nd Judicial District Court.

Why did you decide to run?
It’s been my life-long goal to serve as a judge here in the 22nd Judicial District. That aspiration was reinforced during the 11 years that I served as a Staff Attorney for Judge Donald Fendlason and Judge Richard Swartz.

In that position, I assisted the judges with every civil and criminal case that came before them, researched and advised them on every motion and hearing and helped them manage the dockets. I saw firsthand exactly what the job of a judge entails. I know that it is a hard job and an awesome responsibility. It takes knowledge of both civil and criminal law and it also takes wisdom, maturity, and life experience. I’m now 55 years old and have been an attorney for 30 years. I’ve developed a well-rounded career and have the right kind of experience in every area of the law to be a judge.

Not only does a judge work very long hours once elected, but it also takes a 24/7 commitment to campaign for the office. For that reason, I waited to run for the position until now, when all 3 of my children are either in college or have graduated from college. I didn’t want to run a campaign when my children were younger and still at home. My youngest graduated from high school and went to college in 2022 and with Judge Hand’s decision to retire at the end of this year, the time was right for me to run.

What is your occupation/current employer?
I am an attorney and for the past 8 years I’ve been in private practice handling primarily criminal cases. My office is in Covington and my practice is in both Washington and St. Tammany Parishes.

What makes you the right choice?
Division B is one of the 10 divisions of our court that handles both civil and criminal cases. A judge needs to have experience in BOTH civil and criminal law and I’m the only candidate in Division B with the right experience. I’m the only candidate who has experience in all areas of the law that are required as well as judicial staff experience and who has sat on the bench making decisions in difficult cases.

I was the managing partner in a civil litigation firm for 6 years handling contracts, business disputes, environmental law, complex commercial litigation, successions and property title work, among other types of cases. I then worked for 11 years as Staff Attorney for two very distinguished judges, Judge Donald Fendlason and Judge Richard Swartz, helping them decide every civil and criminal case on their dockets and assisting them in hundreds of civil and criminal jury trials.

All of the judges appointed me to serve as Court Commissioner. In that role, which is a magistrate judge position, I went to the jails in both parishes for 72 hour hearings and set bonds in criminal cases, presided over domestic abuse cases and also heard nonsupport cases brought by the State against parents who failed to support their children. Finally, I’ve practiced criminal law for the past 8 years, handling felonies and misdemeanors in court just about every single day. All of these experiences have given me the unique perspective of seeing our court system from every angle, both inside and outside of the judge’s office, in the courtroom and on the bench making decisions in difficult cases myself as the Commissioner. My entire career has prepared me to serve as a judge.

I was born and raised in this jurisdiction and have spent my entire legal career practicing in Washington and St. Tammany parishes. Over the past 30 years I have built a reputation for hard work, fairness and integrity. I have wide support all across both parishes from citizens, the legal community, courthouse personnel and law enforcement leaders and officers. As a lifelong resident, I am committed to our community and value the safety of our families and children. I will be a strong partner with law enforcement to keep our parishes safe.

I will be tough when needed but I will also be compassionate when warranted. Our legal system recognizes that we can’t and shouldn’t incarcerate everyone. I will be hard on violent offenders, sex offenders and those who sell deadly drugs but I am a strong supporter of the specialty court programs offered through our judicial system including the drug court, sobriety court, veterans court and behavioral health court, for people who qualify for their services and are willing to do the hard work necessary to turn their lives around.

What do you want to accomplish if elected?
If elected I will work hard every day to continue to earn the trust of the people of Washington and St. Tammany Parishes. I will be independent and impartial and apply the rule of law as written. I will be mindful of the fact that every case is important and I will render honest, well- reasoned decisions. I will maintain the dignity and integrity of the Court at all times. I will treat all persons in the courtroom with respect and courtesy.

I will work to maximize efficiency in the handling of both the civil and criminal dockets, using special setting dates and trial settings to reduce the size of both dockets. I will also render decisions from the bench at the conclusion of hearings or bench trials in both civil and criminal cases rather than taking matters under advisement which causes delay. I will work with all parties involved in our court system to protect the safety of our citizens and improve our community. I am qualified, I’m experienced and I’m ready for this job.