The announcement of a district attorney’s seat being open at the end of the year normally would bring a potentially long list of hopefuls, but it wasn’t the case this year.
Assistant District Attorney Tony Clayton, who longtime officeholder Ricky Ward endorsed when he announced he would not seek another term, went unopposed in the qualifying to fill Ward’s seat when he retires at the end of this year.
Clayton, a Port Allen native, worked with Ward since 2002 in the 18th Judicial District.
A move into an open seat without opposition came a bit unexpected, but it served as a vote of confidence for both the current and future DA.
“It’s a very sobering deal when 80,000 people in three parishes, and 100 lawyers, allow me to do this job,” said Clayton, 57.
“I was somewhat surprised, but not totally,” he said. “The nature of the way Ricky Ward has run the office, he has done nearly as flawlessly as a prosecutor can and the people knew what Ricky had done and how he has run a good office and want to keep it in the same hands with the same people to keep the public protected.”
Clayton, who has been chief felony prosecutor for most of the time he has worked with Ward, has tried nearly every major felony case involving a murder or rape.
Clayton, as lead prosecutor, brought down convicted serial killers Derrick Todd Lee and Sean Gillis, who terrorized south Louisiana for years. Both were convicted as charged by Clayton and received life sentences.
Clayton enters an elite group as one of only five African-American district attorneys in Louisiana.
The others include James Stewart of Caddo Parish, John Belton of Lincoln/Union parishes, Charles Cravins of St. Landry and Bridget Dinvaut of St. John the Baptist Parish.
“I don’t see that as a major part of this, but I can say it’s a true testament to the people in our three parishes that people did not base this on race,” Clayton said.
“This district is what our country really about, we represent what country is really about, and if our entire nation takes deep breath, they see how it’s supposed to work and I’m proud to be the one they’ve chosen to serve them.
“If our nation could take a collective sigh and breath of fresh air, and look at Iberville, West Baton Rouge and Pointe Coupee parishes, they’d see that we’re not perfect, but we all get along and put forth our best and qualified people to lead us,” Clayton said.
“This is a great area with a great chemical corridor that hires people, provides good education and has a lot of good people.”
He will become only the fourth district attorney in 80 years. Ward won the seat from Houston “Hammy” Gascon, who succeeded Sam Cashio, who presided as DA since 1940.
Clayton was also named “Prosecutor of the Year” in 2015 by Crimefighters of Louisiana, a victim advocacy organization that works to protect and advocate on behalf of victims of crime.
He landed the honor for his successful prosecution of Karl Howard and Monique Kitts for the “murder for hire” death of Corey Kitts Jr. in West Baton Rouge Parish.