The Louisiana Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee contends that Baton Rouge lawyer and City Court candidate Joel Porter violated the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct in his campaigning.
Porter and his attorney deny that contention.
Porter, a Democrat, is running against incumbent City Court Judge Alex “Brick” Wall, also a Democrat, in the Nov. 6 elections.
But it was a complaint from the campaign of Baton Rouge lawyer and state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal candidate Gideon Carter III that prompted the judicial campaign oversight panel to act in the Porter incident.
Carter, a Democrat, is running against incumbent 1st Circuit Judge Mike McDonald and state District Judge Trudy White, both Republicans from Baton Rouge, in Tuesday’s elections.
Carter’s campaign manager and next-door neighbor, Baton Rouge lawyer Niles Haymer, complained last month to the oversight committee that Porter and his campaign team have been distributing an “unethical” and “intentionally misleading” flier to black households in the Concord Estates neighborhood where Carter and Haymer live.
The flier displays a photograph of President Barack Obama on the front with the caption “YOUR VOTE COUNTS!”
On the back of the flier are photographs of 1st Circuit Judge and Louisiana Supreme Court candidate John Michael Guidry, White, Porter, and Baton Rouge lawyer and City Court candidate Tiffany Foxworth under the captions “The Democrats’ Choice for Judge” and “OFFICIAL BALLOT — VOTE ENTIRE TICKET — Nov 6, 2012.”
Guidry is a Democrat, as is Foxworth, who is running against incumbent City Court Judge Suzan Ponder and Baton Rouge lawyer Cliff Ivey, both Republicans.
“This is very unsettling being that Mr. Porter and/or his team are endorsing other candidates for judge and more importantly, are listing Judge Trudy White as the ‘Democrats’ Choice for Judge’ which serves to misrepresent the truth to voters being that Judge Trudy White is a Republican and Attorney Gideon Carter is the only Democrat in the race for 1st Circuit Court of Appeal,” Haymer wrote in an Oct. 18 email to the campaign oversight committee.
“Mr. Porter is well aware that Attorney Carter has received the Louisiana Democratic Party endorsement and therefore the language chosen on the flyer ‘The Democrats’ Choice’ in reference to Judge Trudy White is intentionally misleading,” Haymer added.
White was a Democrat and a City Court judge in the fall of 2008 when she defeated incumbent state District Judge Curtis Calloway for a seat on the 19th Judicial District Court. She later changed her party affiliation to Republican.
The campaign oversight panel, which is authorized by the state Supreme Court to review and investigate alleged violations of the Louisiana Code of Judicial Conduct, said in a public statement released Monday that “the production and distribution of this flier by Mr. Porter and/or his campaign committee constitutes the public endorsement of another candidate for public office and therefore violates” the code.
Haymer stressed Wednesday that Carter has been harmed.
“When they (voters) get in the booth, they’re going to be confused,” he said. “It’s unfair.”
White and McDonald declined comment Wednesday.
The committee’s public statement also said Porter “does not deny” the allegation that the flier was prepared by Porter’s campaign and personally distributed by Porter.
Porter said Wednesday he was not called upon to answer that question. He charged that the committee based its conclusions on “conjecture and speculation and hearsay” rather than “evidence and facts.” He also noted that no opponent of his is listed on the flier.
“We don’t think that he violated the rule in any way,” lawyer Steve Irving, who represents Porter, said of the Code of Judicial Conduct canon that says judges and judicial candidates shall not “publicly endorse or publicly oppose another candidate for public office.”
Irving said he believes the canon violates the free speech provisions of the U.S. Constitution.
The oversight committee does not have the power to punish or sanction judicial candidates, Supreme Court spokeswoman Valerie Willard said.