Gavel Grab

Panel: Louisiana Judicial Candidate Violated Code of Judicial Conduct

On Friday, Louisiana’s Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee declared that Jefferson Parish judicial candidate Hilary Landry violated the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct.

The panel stated that Landry’s campaign flier contained a misleading claim about a case involving her opponent, Scott Schlegel, the Associated Press reports.

Landry’s campaign lawyer, Tom Owen, defended the flier under Landry’s First Amendment right to criticize Schlegel.

Schlegel and Landry went head to head in a runoff election on Saturday. According to WWL-TV News, Schlegel won 67 percent of the vote, and Landry received  33 percent.

WWWL-TV political analyst Clancy DuBos said that Landry was expected to win in an earlier primary, and “she ran second and it wasn’t that close. So when you’re second and you have a lot of money, you need to go on the attack.

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Commentary: Strong Case for Appointed Judiciary in Louisiana

Newly elected Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Jeff Hughes shucked traditional “pretence of impartiality and restraint” in his campaign and also benefited from huge special-interest spending. All told, the result wasn’t pretty, Times-Picayune columnist James Gill concludes:

“The case for an appointed state judiciary just got much stronger.”

The columnist hands down a tough personal judgment of the jurist over Judge Hughes’  pro-life, pro-guns and pro-death penalty statements. “There could be no reason for a judicial candidate to air his views on such matters, save as an indication of how he would vote from the bench,” Gill writes.

Gill also points to Judge Hughes’ benefitting from the spending of almost $500,000 by a PAC called Citizens for Clean Water and Land, set up by landowners and lawyers who the columnist says are “seeking redress in the courts for environmental damage caused by oil and gas companies.”

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Self-Described ‘Pro-Gun, Pro-Life’ Candidate Wins LA Court Runoff

A run-off contest for the Louisiana Supreme Court led to victory for Republican Judge Jeff Hughes (photo at left) over Democrat Judge John Michael Guidry (photo below). Judge Hughes campaigned in part on pledges that he is “pro-gun, pro-life, pro-traditional marriage” and supports the death penalty.

Judge Hughes’s campaign and an independent PAC supporting him, Citizens for Clean Water and Land PAC, dramatically outspent Judge Guidry’s camp for TV advertising, The Advocate reported.

In a campaign mailer, Judge Hughes framed his candidacy as a way to restrain “liberal Democrat Bernette Johnson,” who will become Louisiana Supreme Court chief justice in January.

“The election of a Republican majority to the court would tend to limit her (Johnson’s) actions, while the election of another Democrat could give her more freedom to move not only the Supreme Court but the entire Louisiana judicial system to the left,” Judge Hughes contended. Counting him, Republicans will hold a 4-3 majority on the court.

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Two ‘Vastly Different’ Campaigns for LA Supreme Court Seat

The race for the District 5 seat on the Louisiana Supreme Court will not be decided until the runoff election on December 8, reports The Advocate.

The race between Democratic Circuit Judge John Michael Guidry and Republican Circuit Judge Jeff Hughes has been characterized by two “vastly different campaigns,” says the article. While Guidry has appeared in no television ads, preferring to speak at churches and youth groups, Hughes raised close to $300,000 for television and newspaper ads in order to go on record as “pro-life, pro-gun and pro-traditional-marriage.” Read more

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It’s Final: Louisiana to Get First Black Chief Justice

The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that Justice Bernette Johnson is entitled to be the court’s next chief justice. The decision brought to a close several months of debate over what became a racially charged issue in the state’s high court, the Associated Press reports. With the ruling, Johnson will become the state’s first black chief justice.

Current Chief Justice Catherine “Kitty” Kimball is set to retire in January, and Johnson became embroiled with fellow Justice Jeffrey Victory over who was next in line to succeed her. A (New Orleans) Times-Picayune article says that the court decided unanimously in Johnson’s favor.

On September 1, federal District Judge Susie Morgan ruled that Johnson had seniority over Victory, but some opposed the decision because they believed it should be decided in a Louisiana state court.

“As we’ve said all along, this was an issue for Louisiana courts to decide and we’re glad this important issue was decided by the Louisiana Supreme Court. We won’t be moving forward with an appeal,” said Kevin Tully, an attorney for the state.

Johnson’s claim to the top seat was challenged by Victory, as well as other justices who contended that her initial six years on the court ought not be counted in calculating seniority since she was originally elected to a Fourth Circuit Court seat (see Gavel Grab). The debate flamed racial tensions in Louisiana.  Victory is white.

Former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, one of Johnson’s backers, said he was “relieved that the matter has finally been resolved in accordance with federal law.” U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said in a statement that Johnson “has earned the right to serve as Chief Justice and will serve the citizens of Louisiana well in her new role.”

Justices Johnson, Victory, and Jeannette Knoll recused themselves from hearing the case. The Associated Press says that three state appeals court judges heard it in their place.

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NY Times Backs Johnson in Louisiana Chief Justice Fray

A New York Times editorial has taken sides in a legal battle over who is entitled to be Louisiana’s next chief justice, saying an African American jurist, Justice Bernette Johnson, is due the position by virtue of her seniority.

The editorial concurred with a recent federal court ruling in Justice Johnson’s favor (see Gavel Grab) that Gov. Bobby Jindal is preparing to appeal. If elevated, Justice Johnson would become the state’s first African American chief justice. At issue in the dispute is her service on the court between 1994 and 2000, following a court-ordered consent decree that gave the high court an eighth justice from a newly created majority-black district.

The state Supreme Court’s six white justices have contended that Justice Johnson’s service on the bench during that period ought not be factored into calculating her seniority for the chief justice post. The state’s Constitution did not specify the existence of the eighth seat at that time, they say.

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La. State Attorneys Seek Review of Ruling on Justice Bernette Johnson

On Friday, Louisiana state attorneys filed for a review of U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan’s ruling in the case of state Supreme Court Justice Bernette Johnson, the Associated Press reports.

Last week, Morgan ruled in favor of Johnson, declaring that she has seniority to be Louisiana’s next Chief Justice. Johnson’s tenure on the bench was challenged by fellow Justice Jeffrey Victory, who claimed to have served longer on the court (see Gavel Grab).

According to another Associated Press article, Louisiana state attorney Kevin Tully said that Morgan’s ruling created confusion, leaving it unclear as to whether or not the Supreme Court is prohibited from deciding “which justice should succeed Chief Justice Catherine ‘Kitty’ Kimball” when she retires next year.

“The state’s highest court is constitutionally empowered to interpret the state constitution, specifically the issue of which judge is ‘oldest in point of service on the Supreme Court,’” Tully said. “The ruling creates confusion regarding whether the federal court believes the consent judgment prohibits the Louisiana Supreme Court from carrying out its constitutional duties.”

To learn more about the consent judgment at issue in the case, see Gavel Grab.

An attorney for Justice Johnson, James Williams, called the appeal a “disgrace” and “a waste of taxpayer money,” yet remains confident that Morgan’s ruling will be upheld.

According to the article, Johnson sued in July to “block her colleagues” on the high court “from debating and voting on whether she or Victory should succeed Chief Justice Kimball.”

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U.S. Judge: Johnson Has Seniority to be Next Louisiana Chief Justice

By virtue of her seniority, Justice Bernette Johnson of the Louisiana Supreme Court (photo at far right) is entitled to succeed retiring Chief Justice Catherine “Kitty” Kimball (photo near right) next year, a federal judge ruled over the weekend.

Federal District Court Judge Susie Morgan wrote that “any tenure accrued by Justice Johnson between Nov. 16, 1994 and October 7, 2000, is to be credited to her for all purposes under Louisiana law.” Those purposes would include a determination as to whether Justice Johnson is next in line, by virtue of seniority,  to become chief justice, according to a (New Orleans) Times-Picayune article. Unless there is a successful appeal of her decision, Justice Johnson would become the first African American chief justice in the court’s history.

Two of her colleagues who are white challenged Justice Johnson’s ascension to the top seat on the bench. Under a process set up by Justice Kimball, the state Supreme Court was preparing to sort out the issue of who had the most seniority. But Justice Johnson sued in federal court, and she prevailed.

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Racially Divisive History Resurfaces in Debate over Black LA Justice

For some, the debate over who will be Louisiana’s next Supreme Court Chief Justice has evoked memories of previous racial issues in the state’s history, a USA Today article says. Justice Bernette Johnson seemed on her way to become the court’s first African American chief justice, until two of her colleagues challenged her ascension to the top seat.

Justices Jeffrey Victory and Jeanette Knoll, who are both white, claim they have served on the bench longer, and should be in line to serve as chief justices before Johnson, according to the article. Civil rights groups, including the NAACP, are backing Johnson.

“This is one of the most blatant and obvious racially motivated fights we’ve seen since David Duke made the runoff for governor,” said state Sen. J.P. Morell.

John Page, president of the National Bar Association, said that African Americans throughout the United States rarely get access to “the experience needed to head state supreme courts.” The National Bar Association is a JAS partner group.

“That’s why the Johnson case is important,” Page said. “She’s done everything she’s supposed to. It sends a clear message, not just in Louisiana but all across America: Even those at the highest level can be denied.”

Johnson began performing duties as a Supreme Court justice in 1994, the article says, but under a federal court settlement in a case seeking to allow the election of minority judges to the high court, her initial election was to a Fourth Circuit Court seat (see Gavel Grab). She worked from the Circuit Court until 2000, and the debate hinges on whether those years count towards Johnson’s tenure on the high court, the article says.

Johnson’s lead attorney, James Williams, says this case could lead to the “unraveling of decades of work to make the state’s judiciary system more diverse. This would not be happening if Justice Johnson were not African American,” he said.

Justice at Stake, in coordination with its partners, has taken concrete steps to support increasd diversity on the bench. The JAS website explains, “An ideal bench is representative of the larger community, including women, persons of color, members of the LGBT community, persons with disabilities and other underrepresented groups.”

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Dearth of Candidates in Louisiana Judicial Elections

Lousiana voters will only be able to make choices in five judicial races this November, despite the presence of twenty-two state appeals court judgeships on the election ballot. According to the Associated Press, the majority of the candidates faced no opposition to a seat on the bench.

Ginger Sawyer, who works for the Lousiana Association of Business and Industry, says this is a “normal pattern” in Louisiana. The majority of those running without opposition were incumbents, the Associated Press says.

Louisiana judicial elections receive attention primarily from the “business and legal communities,” the article explains.

LSU political science professor Stacia Haynie referred to judicial races as “low-information elections,” where the incumbent typically has an advantage.

“They just don’t draw a lot of attention, either from people who would be potential challengers or from the voters,” she said.

According to Sawyer, open positions within the appeals courts serve more as a “system of seniority or promotion” for those working in a district court.

She also explained that lawyers are less likely to run against a sitting judge who they might have to face in the courtroom.

While most of Louisiana’s judicial races are not contentious, eight candidates vying for an open seat on the state Supreme Court have turned it into a “crowded race,” the article says.

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