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