LAFAYETTE — Critics are raising issues about trial lawyers donating to a Louisiana Supreme Court candidate.

James
James "Jimmy" Genovese | No credit

Conservative political website The Hayride accused trial lawyers of trying to “buy a seat” on the Louisiana Supreme Court by electing Judge Jimmy Genovese.

“There’s no question that the Louisiana trial bar invests very heavily in campaigns across the state," Melissa Landry, executive director of the non-partisan Louisiana Lawsuit Watch, said. “In the addition to research we’ve done, there’s also national studies that have shown donations from lawyers and law firms make up a disproportionate share of campaign funds in judicial races.”

Though there is nothing illegal about lawyers donating to campaigns, the practice does raise questions about judicial impartiality.

“Under Louisiana law, lawyers are absolutely allowed to contribute to judicial elections at every level,” Landry told The Louisiana Record. “They can contribute as individuals, or through their law firms and through other separate legal entities that they may own, which many lawyers do.”

About 90 percent of Genovese’s campaign funds are contributed from lawyers, law firms and companies related to lawyers. His opponent, conservative Marilyn Castle, has a more diversified campaign contributions portfolio, receiving donations from businesses and conservative groups.

The Hayride criticized Genovese’s nearly $800,000 in campaign funds and his relationship with trial lawyers. Landry, who said her non-profit is focused on being watchdogs over elected officials and those running for office, said lawyers donate for a variety of reasons, much like individuals or businesses would, and are huge contributors to campaigns across the board.

Some of the ire around Genovese’s campaign might be rooted in the outcome of another recent Louisiana Supreme Court candidacy. Landry said in 2012, Justice Jeff Hughes – then a candidate in the Fifth District race – received $750,000 from a political action committee founded by Baton Rouge-based attorney John Carmouche of Talbot, Carmouche & Marcello.

He won the race, and some questioned whether the law firm's push to elect Hughes was to influence his decisions on legacy lawsuits. In fact, Landry said, the firm had a case in front of the Supreme Court shortly after the election.

Justices voted for Hughes to recuse himself while dealing with cases involving the firm. He sued to have this vote overturned.

“The legal standard in Louisiana is one of perception,” Landry said. “If there is a reasonable perception that there could be bias, then judges are supposed to recuse themselves, and the majority of the supreme court voted to recuse him in hearings involving this law firm that has such a significant role in his campaign.”

She said the issue some have with Genovese’s campaign is reminiscent of the perceived problem with Hughes: Will a judge, or any elected official, be influenced by his donors?

“There’s not a technical, legal violation of the law,” Landry said. “But, I think that for some, the lack of diversity in the support is troubling.”

Genovese campaign spokeswoman Amy Jones told The Louisiana Record that a majority of his campaign contributions are from individuals and businesses, not from political action committees. She said he has always been fair and impartial on the bench, and there's never been any instance of him acting unethically.

"He's received donations from people who are concerned about Louisiana," she said. "He has a strong, proven record of being fair on the bench."

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