NEW ORLEANS — A judge who imposed a temporary restraining order on behalf of a New Iberia attorney seeking to have negative comments removed from a newspaper website has accepted campaign funds from that attorney in the past, state records show.
The Daily Iberian newspaper, which was the target of the restraining order, ultimately prevailed when local lawyer David Groner dropped legal action he had filed against the publication.
However, the move only came after an injunction was imposed by 16th Judicial District Judge Curtis Sigur who ordered The Daily Iberian to delete an offending comment posted by an anonymous user from its website. The negative comment referred to a 2008 Louisiana Supreme Court Office of Disciplinary Counsel order where Groner was accused of being "engaged in a conflict of interest and engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation'' while representing a client. As result of the disciplinary investigation, Groner was placed on supervised probation for a year.
Sigur's injunction, which was immediately granted prior to holding a hearing or even notifying the newspaper, appeared to puzzle legal scholars, who said the ruling was a clear violation of the newspaper's First Amendment rights.
“It is absolutely baffling to me,'' Loyola University New Orleans law professor Dane Ciolino said. "There was no merit whatsoever to his request for an injunction.''
Campaign finance records from Sigur’s first run for judgeship in 2001 show Groner gave the judge $750 in campaign contributions.
Ciolino said the campaign contribution aspect is important no matter if it played into Sigur’s reasoning for the injunction or not.
“The problem with allowing judges to accept campaign contributions from lawyers (is) because it often leads people to wonder about results,” he said. ““For that reason there are many jurisdictions that don’t elect judges or restrict lawyer campaign contributions.”
Melissa Landry, executive director of non-partisan legal watchdog group Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, had a harsher view.
"Judges are required to perform their duties without bias or prejudice, which was clearly not the case here,'' she said. "The overly broad nature of Judge Sigur’s order and the unconstitutional manner in which it was executed clearly suggest his actions were guided by something other than the law. This shocking abuse of judicial power should be fully investigated by the Louisiana Judiciary Commission.”