Things are not always as they seem.
Take those flag-waving, gun-loving, pro-traditional marriage, pro-life, pro-death penalty TV ads that helped propel one Jefferson Davis Hughes into the Dec. 8 runoff for the 5th District Louisiana State Supreme Court seat being vacated by the retirement of Chief Justice Kitty Kimball.
To see and hear those ads, one could reasonably come to the conclusion that Hughes is the epitome of American conservative values and that he personally was responsible for the patriotic revolution that freed the colonies from the British Crown.
One of the distasteful ads opens with the portentous voiceover saying in an appropriately ominous tone, “President Obama would never appoint Jeff Hughes to the Louisiana Supreme Court” as if that fact alone qualified him for the office—never mind the fact that Obama appoints none of the State Supreme Court justices.
That stunning opening statement is followed by the pronouncement, complete with all the patriotic fervor the unseen voice can muster that Hughes is pro-gun, pro-life, pro-traditional marriage. And while the ad doesn’t say so, Hughes announced at a recent forum held by the Baton Rouge League of Women Voters that he also supports the death penalty.
Thanks in large part to those slick, misty-eyed, lump-in-the-throat tributes to all that is good and holy, Hughes, with the obligatory “R” behind his name, will face Democrat Circuit Judge John Michael Guidry in next month’s runoff election.
Guidry, who chose to rely on a tactic unheard of in today’s age of electronic media and expensive political consultants/pollsters—public forums and face-to-face campaigning—had no TV ads and yet still managed to finish first in the field of eight candidates with 93,119 votes (27 percent) to 71,911 (21 percent) for Hughes.
The Hughes ads led to the question of propriety on his part because, as Baton Rouge Advocate writer Bill Lodge correctly pointed out, part of Canon 7 of the Louisiana Code of Judicial Conduct stipulates that neither a judge nor a judicial candidate shall make “any statement that would reasonably be expected to affect the outcome or impair the fairness of a mater pending in any Louisiana state court.”
And while gay marriage and gun bans have not yet made it into the Louisiana legal system, there is nothing to say they won’t. Abortion and the death penalty, however, certainly have been raised in the state’s court system.
The question then becomes, did Hughes cross the line in expressing his personal beliefs and prejudices when a judge—at any level, from city court to State Supreme Court—is charged with enforcing the law in total disregard of his own political philosophy?
In our opinion, he stepped far over that line. We feel it is entirely inappropriate for a judge to campaign like a typical political candidate—because he is not. Judges are held, necessarily, to a much higher standard—and they should be. Politicians by their nature are expected to pander to the electorate; judges, on the other hand, are supposed to be fair and impartial in administering the laws—with heavy emphasis on fair and impartial. To express a political stand so charged with controversy and legal interpretation during a campaign taints the entire judiciary.
Of course, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a typical 5-4 split, has ruled otherwise. The Minnesota Supreme Court’s canon of judicial conduct likewise prohibited judicial candidates from advancing their views during campaigns for office but the nation’s high court said that violates the First Amendment right to free speech.
But remember, too, that the U.S. Supreme Court also gave us the Citizens United decision that says corporations are people and are thus free to make unlimited and unreported campaign contributions to secretive super PACs on behalf of favored political candidates.
The Citizens United decision only served to intensify the growing tsunami of secretive campaign contributions funneled through political action committees so we, the citizenry, have no idea who the financial power brokers are behind the candidate(s) seeking our votes.
Campaign finance has evolved into such insanity that when we make a paltry $100 contribution to our favored candidate’s campaign, we may eventually find ourselves pitted against the interests of a corporation that plowed $100,000 into that same candidate’ campaign through some super PAC. When that issue—us against say, banks or credit card companies or environmental polluters—comes to a committee or floor vote, which way do you think our “favored candidate” will vote?
All this brings us back to those cheesy ads that could just be a smokescreen to conceal more sinister underlying issues.
Hughes received only about $44,000 in campaign contributions and $10,200 of that was money he transferred from funds remaining from a prior campaign. He also loaned his campaign $250,000 but even that was not nearly enough to cover the glut of television spots and the widespread mail-outs.
So who paid for that advertising?
One report said that the Citizens for Clean Water and Land http://www.cleanwaterandland.com/ ponied up the money.
It’s an innocuous sounding name and seems to express a goal to which we all aspire but even such noble-appearing endeavors as clean water and land can have underpinnings of greed and objectives of enrichment through political proximity.
Citizens for Clean Water and Land was established by John Carmouche and other plaintiff attorneys for the apparent purpose of influencing the outcome of the Supreme Court race and for paving the way for a favorable ruling by that court at some time in the future.
During the legislative session earlier this year, Carmouche was front and center in the battle to resist reforms in the handling of Louisiana’s so-called legacy lawsuits, http://www.vcstar.com/news/2012/may/31/legacy-lawsuit-compromise-sent-to-governors-desk/ an issue that now appears headed for the courts. Carmouche and other plaintiff attorneys were opposed to the reform legislation because it made it more difficult to recover damages against oil companies.
Legacy lawsuits deal with the extent of cleanup of environmental damage caused by the practices of oil producers in the state decades ago.
The reform effort was initiated in part as a result of a $72 million judgment against Shell Oil for its failure to clean up property owned by the family of Lake Charles attorney Michael Veron.
In short, no matter what your position may be on the issue of oilfield cleanup, do we really need a State Supreme Court justice whose campaign is bankrolled by special interests (read: plaintiff attorneys) who feel the need to grease the skids in the hope that their case will eventually make its way before that same Louisiana Supreme Court?
The hidden agenda in this race then would appear to come down to three words:
Influence for sale.