Panel: Jefferson Parish judge candidate violated judicial canons in campaign mailers

The Louisiana Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee said Friday that judicial candidate Hilary Landry violated the Louisiana Code of Judicial Conduct by making a false statement in a campaign mailer and commenting on a pending case in another.

Landry, who is running for a seat on the 24th Judicial District Court, produced campaign materials that took her opponent, Scott Schlegel, to task for dismissing a charge against a man for violating a state protective order while he was an assistant district attorney for Jefferson Parish. She also criticised him for a child molestation case he prosecuted that twice ended in hung juries.

Schlegel filed a number of complaints against Landry with the committee, and in a public statement released Friday, a day before the election, the committee said that it “finds the majority of Schlegel’s allegations have merit.’’

But the committee focused its attention on what it called “the two most egregious violations of Canon 7’’ in its public statement — both dealing with statements about Schlegel made in Landry’s campaign materials.

The committee cited Canon 7 of the Louisiana Code of Judicial Conduct, which says that a judge or judicial candidate shall not “knowingly make or cause to be made, a false statement concerning the identify, qualifications, present position or other fact concerning the candidate or an opponent.’’

In the domestic violence case, the committee “determined that Landry placed an image of Schlegel’s signature taken from one bill of information, which Schlegel had dismissed, and placed it under a description of various violent offenses, not the subject of the dismissed case, thereby falsely suggesting Schlegel had dismissed those charges,’’ the statement said.

In an interview earlier this week, Schlegel said that the man in question was accused of violating a protective order because he wrote a letter to the victim’s son. But by the time the case came to Schlegel through a screener, he said, the two-year time limit for prosecution had run out.

The other complaint involved a campaign mailer about a child molestation case that the committee said implied that the defendant is politically connected and contains statements like “Don’t let another criminal go Scott Free.’’

The committee notes that the mailer might have been distributed to potential jurors in the case, and while it does not name the defendant, it refers to the case number and includes images of newspaper stories.

“The Committee believes that such statements implicating the constitutional presumption of innocence, presented to potential jurors by a judicial candidate, especially one running for the same court where the case is pending, ‘would reasonably be expected to affect the outcome or impair the fairness of a matter pending in any Louisiana state court,’ ’’ the statement says. That, it says, is prohibited by the Code of Judicial Conduct.

Landry did not return a call for comment, but her lawyer, Tom Owen, and her media consultant, Greg Buisson, both issued prepared statements Friday.

Owen said that the Landry campaign disagrees with the committee’s conclusions and that Landry has a right to criticize Schlegel’s job performance, “particularly as he has repeatedly stated that such performance makes him qualified for judicial office.’’

Owen said Landry agrees that judges should refrain from making comments on open cases before the court on which the judge sits but that a judicial candidate, “just like any other U.S. citizen or the media, has a First Amendment right to discuss the competency of her opponent’s job performance.’’

Owen also took issue with the committee’s conclusion that the mailer implied the case that Schlegel dismissed was related to violent acts.

“It is disappointing that a judicial candidate has used the judicial oversight committee as a campaign tool,’’ Buisson said in his statement.

Schlegel defended his decision to file complaints against his opponents. “Judicial candidates are, and should be, held to a higher standard because of the nature of the office they seek,’’ he said in a prepared statement.

“There are specific canons that govern judicial campaigns. I believe my opponent violated those canons, and therefore I brought my concerns to the attention of the Louisiana Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee on a confidential basis.’’