With 41 years on the bench, he has served longer than any judge in the history of Louisiana. But New Orleans Criminal Court Judge Frank Marullo has extended his historic tenure in office without hearing a single case – or even taking the bench – for nearly a year.
Marullo has been kept on the sidelines since February when the state Supreme Court disqualified him from judicial duties. The suspension came after the Judiciary Commission – the disciplinary arm of the high court – ruled that Marullo violated the state's mandatory retirement age of 70.
Marullo will turn 76 on Dec. 31. Throughout his suspension, Marullo has been collecting his full salary of $136,000 a year.
Marullo's "apparent disregard of the law, while he sits in a position to administer it, gives the public the impression that he is above the law," the commission stated in its recommendation.
After fighting his removal since it was ordered, Marullo is now throwing in the towel. He has announced his retirement, effective on his birthday.
"There was significant evidence that he had violated the canons of judicial conduct by willfully taking office despite the fact that under the state Constitution he was over the age limit," said Loyola Law Professor Dane Ciolino, an expert on legal ethics.
Supporters and critics alike are viewing Marullo's departure as the end of an era at Tulane and Broad. During his four decades on the bench after a brief stint as a state legislator, Marullo has been one of the court's most colorful characters, from his open feuds with former District Attorney Harry Connick to his savvy lobbying in Baton Rouge, from his censure after writing a support letter on behalf of mob associate Anthony Carollo to launching the state's first drug court.
Controversy even followed him during his re-election to the bench in the fall of 2014.
At the time of the election, Marullo was 74. While the state Constitution has an age limit of 70 years old for elected judges, Marullo argued that he took the bench before that age limit was passed, placing him under an even older law, which capped the age at 75.
Marullo, however, reached that age last New Year's Eve, a milestone that his 2014 opponents said should have disqualified him.
But the state Supreme Court allowed Marullo to run, refusing to hear arguments against an appeals court ruling that kept Marullo in the race on the narrow grounds that he was qualified. Marullo eked out a win in the primary, leading to the current predicament.
Within weeks of starting his new term, Marullo was suspended with full pay. Since mid-February, his cases have been handled by a series of temporary replacements. Those pro tem judges have been paid about $70,000 total to handle Marullo's docket.
Marie Williams was the second-place challenger in the 2014 race. She was among those arguing that Marullo should have been disqualified by the courts before allowing a Catch-22 to develop in which Marullo could run, but not serve.
"We could have had this race and it would have been done with. But it's not. And he's still getting a salary. And I just don't understand why," Williams said.
Former prosecutor Graham Bosworth was the other candidate, finishing a close third. He said the higher courts should have foreseen the dilemma.
"There's a cost associated with having to have ad hocs fill the position," Bosworth said. "There's a cost associated with a delay in the ability to actually resolve the cases that are going through that section of court."
Ciolino said the matter has been an exercise in futility.
"It really does kind of in retrospect seem to have been needless waste of time, effort and money and it's a good that it's going to come to a close," he said.
But the matter won't be fully resolved until the end of 2016. That's because the Louisiana Secretary of State has designated Nov. 8 as the date of a special election to fill Marullo's unexpired term. If there's a runoff, it would be held Dec. 10, marking nearly two years that Section D will be without a permanent elected judge.
When that election finally does roll around, the two losing candidates who challenged Marullo say they will be running again.
"I was the runner-up in the last election and I intend to run again and become the winner, which I would have been if Judge Marullo was not allowed to be in the race," Williams said.
Bosworth said, "I wish that the courts in 2014 when they were addressing the issue of his ability to run, had factored his ability to serve. I mean, they kind of punted on that issue. As a result, we have to do this all over again. And I think that's unfortunate for the voters and unfortunate for the taxpayers."
Since the next election won't include Marullo as the incumbent, Williams and Bosworth each say they expect additional challengers for the open seat.
Marullo declined to comment for this story, although his supporters point out that he is eligible for almost his full salary in retirement pay, mitigating the extra costs paid to his temporary replacements. As for the court rulings that led to the situation, the state Supreme Court does not grant interviews about its rulings.