JEFFERSON PARISH, La. - The hotly contested campaign for Jefferson Parish judge just got hotter on the eve of the runoff as one of the candidates was hit with a finding that she violated the judicial code of conduct.
Former part-time prosecutor Hilary Landry was found in violation of a part of the code governing judicial campaign ethics. The decision by the Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee found that Landry circulated false campaign fliers about her opponent, Scott Schlegel.
In a public statement of its findings, the committee determined that a Landry campaign mailer was misleading in its use of Schlegel's signature copied from a case he dismissed when he was a full-time prosecutor. The committee stated that the flier placed a copy of the signature under other violent offenses that weren't a part of the case.
The committee also found Landry in violation for criticizing Schlegel over a case that is still awaiting trial:
'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 the case, the committee wrote in its two-page findings.
The Landry campaign blasted the committee's findings as false and politically motivated.
In an email, Landry's media consultant Greg Buisson wrote, 'It is disappointing that a judicial candidate has used the judicial oversight committee as a campaign tool. The comments by the committee are without merit. 100% of the facts released by the Landry campaign were well documented and sourced. Mr. Schlegel simply does not want to answer to the facts or the truth about his prosecutorial misgivings and misconduct.'
Schlegel released a statement Friday saying that 'judicial candidates should be held to a higher standard because of the nature of the office they seek. 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.'
Schlegel topped Landry in the primary with 36 percent of the vote to Landry's 27 percent. The runoff is Saturday.
Statment from Tom Owen, attorney for Landry:
'The Landry campaign has received the public statement from the Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee.
While the campaign respects the role of the Committee to issue public statements, it fundamentally disagrees on the Committee's conclusions with respect to Ms. Landry's or any other citizen's right to discuss Mr. Schlegel's job performance, particularly as he has repeatedly stated that such performance makes him qualified for judicial office. While Ms. Landry agrees that an elected judge should refrain from making comments on open cases before the Court on which the judge actually sits, she believes 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. To chill speech to prohibit criticism of a candidate's job performance when that candidate boasts of his job credentials prevents the public from learning the facts necessary to determine the weight to give to that candidate's assertions - a result which the First Amendment was designed to protect. For this reason, the Landry campaign believes that the Committee's position as to the scope of the judicial canon at issue here is overbroad because if applied in the manner the Committee suggests it would violate the U.S. Constitution and the protection provided to individuals by the First Amendment, particularly as the information used in the campaign was first written and published by the daily newspaper for all to read and digest and thus was already publicly available.
Further, with respect to the Jacobs matter, we do not believe that the campaign material is misleading or false. The Committee states the excerpts describe 'various violent offenses' and that the charges Mr. Schlegel dismissed did not concern 'acts of violence.' But the Committee's description is incorrect. The excerpts in the July 15, 2003 letter do not concern actual physical harm, but the threat of physical harm just like the charge that Mr. Schlegel dismissed. Therefore, the events listed in the campaign material are commensurate with the charges Mr. Schlegel dismissed. Furthermore, below Mr. Schlegel's 'Dismissed' handwritten signature on the Landry mailer, there is a line below the note that clearly reads 'Even though Rickie Jacob 'willfully' violated five protective orders, Scott Schlegel dismissed the case.' Thus, the mailer highlights the fact that the dismissal is related to violation of a protective order, not the commission of violent acts. Just as important, the specific threats excerpted in that letter are the events that led to the protective order that Mr. Jacob was accused of violating. These are, therefore, facts that Mr. Schlegel should have been aware of when he dismissed the charge against Mr. Jacob on July 18, 2008 for violating a protective order. Because the initial threats that were cited are directly related to the charges that Mr. Schlegel dismissed, referencing them together is neither misleading or false.'