James J. Best

Of counsel
James J. Best

James J. Best brings 30 years of legal experience to the Tomeny | Best Injury Lawyers — 24 of them as a district court judge.

Born in Baton Rouge, Best grew up in Maringouin, a small town in Iberville Parish. His grandmother raised him with a love of music (“I grew up singing,” he said), which inspired him to study music education at the University of Southwestern Louisiana at Lafayette, now known as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Best worked between semesters as a laborer. After receiving his bachelor’s degree, he realized that he did not have the patience a teaching career needs. “I had reached a crossroads in my life,” he said. “A close friend who was a recent attorney suggested I go to law school.”

Best obtained his law degree from Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, passing the Louisiana Bar in 1987. His early cases were a mix of personal injury, family law, and criminal defense.

The East Baton Rouge Office of the Public Defender soon hired him as a public defender for juvenile court, where he honed his skills advocating for young clients at bench trials. “I really wanted to go into court and talk to people,” he said.

After two years on that side of the aisle, Best in 1991 became the first assistant district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, serving under District Attorney Richard J. Ward Jr.

Then in 1993, he was elected as a district court judge for the 18th Judicial District, handling civil, criminal, and juvenile cases across three parishes: West Baton Rouge, Iberville, and Pointe Coupee. In his courtroom, he once said, he tried to embrace the philosophy of “Come on in. I want to hear your case. I want to know all about you, all about your case, because I want to make the right decision.”

Best said being a judge was, as musicians say, “a good gig.” He estimated that he presided over 100 bench trials and upwards of 50 jury trials during his tenure, which to him was a continuing education in the law. “I loved to see the lawyers operate, what to ask, what not to ask,” he said.

He also married more than 100 couples. “I never charged them a penny. That was my wedding gift.”

In May 2017, after 30 years in the legal profession, Best retired. But personal injury attorney Frank Tomeny III, who had impressed him in court with his professionalism, convinced him to join the firm as a limited partner. He and Tomeny work cases together as needed.

When not in court, Best enjoys spending time with his wife, Toni, his three children and his grandchildren, as well as taking care of horses. He still sings and plays the guitar — he and his son had a band for about six years — as well as serves as choral director for St. Mary’s of False River Catholic Church in New Roads.

He enjoys the balance his position at Tomeny | Best Injury Lawyers provides. “I like doing for other people,” Best said. “It gives me the opportunity to help people.”

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