Judicial candidate campaigns take divergent paths

The two appellate judges in the Dec. 8 runoff election for the Disrict 5 seat on the Louisiana Supreme Court ran vastly different campaigns in the eight-candidate race that ended Tuesday.

Democratic Circuit Judge John Michael Guidry, 50, of Baton Rouge, appeared in no television commercials. Guidry spoke at churches and before youth groups, as he often does in nonelection years.

Republican Circuit Judge Jeff Hughes, 60, of Walker, purchased lots of television minutes and newspaper ads to promote his conservative views on abortion, gun rights and gay marriage. He also appeared before the Baton Rouge League of Women Voters and said he favors the death penalty.

Guidry is attempting to become the first black associate justice from the Supreme Court’s District 5, which includes the parishes of East and West Baton Rouge, East and West Feliciana, Livingston, Ascension, Iberville and Pointe Coupee. He had funding of less than $100,000 through the $2 million primary, but led all candidates with 93,117 votes.

Hughes is battling to become the first Republican to occupy that District 5 seat on the high court since the district’s formation in 1999. He had less than $300,000 for the primary, but finished second with 71,910 votes.

Hughes’ comments and commercials were striking because they contrasted with a portion of Canon 7 of Louisiana’s Code of Judicial Conduct. That portion of the code states that a judge or judicial candidate shall not “make any statement that would reasonably be expected to affect the outcome or impair the fairness of a matter pending in any Louisiana state court.”

“I am on record as pro-life, pro-gun and pro-traditional-marriage,” Hughes said early in his campaign. He later added: “I’m personally in favor of the death penalty.”

Hughes did not back away from any of those positions in an interview Friday. He said that a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision showed judges who are elected, rather than appointed, “are entitled to state their positions.”

That 5-4 majority decision occurred in the case of Republican Party of Minnesota, et al, v. Suzanne White, chairwoman of the Minnesota Board of Judicial Standards, et al.

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia, representing the majority of justices, wrote that elected judges are free to exercise their free-speech rights.

“The Minnesota Supreme Court’s canon of judicial conduct prohibiting candidates for judicial election from announcing their views on disputed legal and political issues violates the First Amendment,” Scalia concluded.

Hughes said Friday that his expressed views on significant issues do not conflict with existing Louisiana law.

“The Second Amendment (gun rights) is the law,” Hughes said. “And in Louisiana, traditional marriage is the law,” he said.

“The law in Louisiana is that the death penalty is in effect. I will follow the law. If the state of Louisiana approves gay marriage or does away with the death penalty, I will follow the law.”

A spokeswoman for the Louisiana Supreme Court, which oversees judicial conduct in the state, did not return a phone call Friday.

Guidry said Friday he does not publicly express his views on such subjects because he does not want to risk having to recuse himself from some controversial case in the future.

“I personally … prefer to err on the side of caution,” Guidry said.

Asked how he was able to capture 27 percent of the vote in the eight-candidate primary with less than $100,000 and no television commercials, Guidry said simply: “God’s grace.”

“God supplied every need I had in this campaign,” he said. “It is unexplainable, but it is undeniable. It was a great grass-roots effort, and the voters went to the polling booth and cast their ballots.”

Should he win the runoff Dec. 8, Guidry, a 15-year circuit judge, said his goal would “continue to be even-handed, a fair and impartial judge.”

Guidry said it is important for Louisiana residents and people considering a move to this state to know, “We have judges who won’t legislate from the bench but will apply the rule of the law. They need to be confident that they will get a fair shake at the Louisiana Supreme Court.”

Hughes’ funding was well behind that of the more than $500,000 accumulated by Republican Circuit Judge Jewel “Duke” Welch and more than $400,000 of Republican District Judge W.A. “Bill” Morvant.

But Hughes has 14 years experience as a district judge and eight years on the 1st Circuit’s bench. He said that helped him overcome other candidates’ bigger dollars.

“I think, in this race, there were so many candidates that voters had to look at their qualifications,” Hughes said.

Hughes said his goals, if elected, are simple: “I want to do my job. I enjoy it. I’ll work hard, and I’ll do what’s right to the best of my ability.”

In 2008, Hughes unsuccessfully attempted to wrest the District 5 Supreme Court seat from Kitty Kimball, now the court’s chief justice. He said that experience helped him in this year’s campaign.

“There’s no substitute for experience,” Hughes said. “That’s going to be my theme.”

As for his philosophical views, Hughes said: “I’m not going to change them now.”

Guidry said he will continue to cross political, racial and economic boundaries to build on his Election Day success.

“Whether you are black or white, rich or poor, business or labor, a Democrat or Republican or independent, you can expect equal justice,” Guidry said.