The new sport in Caddo Parish is watching the Caddo District Attorney race—and handicapping the candidates; seemingly the odds change virtually daily with new postings on social media, new candidates announcing, and more background baggage floating to the surface in what is becoming a polluted election pond. And for those candidates who have never run a contested election including James Stewart, the realities of real world politics is a lesson that will be quickly learned as the days go by until the October 24 election.
Stewart has already been subject to scrutiny for the “Run James Run” campaign that has been orchestrated by local attorneys Marshall Jones, Ron Miciotto, Allison Jones, Ross Owens, Paul Carmouche and Wilbert Prior among others. Stewart has denied any involvement in the distribution of flyers, a billboard posting, full page ads in a local publication, endorsement press conference and other campaign-like activities—and for good reason.
The Code of Judicial Conduct precludes any campaign activities of a sitting judge when running for a non-judicial office. Most observer seriously doubt that Stewart did not have prior knowledge and/or involvement in the “Run James Run” promotion. Reportedly complaints have been filed with the Judiciary Commission for these activities and with the Louisiana Ethics Commission for the campaign activities of a non-registered campaign. Undoubtedly Stewart will face questions throughout his campaign about these efforts and whether or not the skirting of campaign laws and judicial ethics sends the right message for a candidate seeking to become the district attorney. Some politicos are now referring to him as “Skirt the Law Stewart” or “Skirt Stewart” for short.
Stewart may also be questioned about his activities in the election of his niece Karelia Stewart to the Caddo bench in the fall of 2014. Karelia ran uncontested; many believe the backroom efforts of her Uncle James forced potential candidates to forego any effort to oppose her. Reportedly Stewart made a call to at least one attorney telling him to not run against Karelia because “it was not his turn”; some say that this was not for the first time Stewart has played powerbroker in local elections. Thus he is also referred to by some as “Wait Your Turn James” (“Wait James” for short).
The most recent revelation about the newest DA candidate is his arrest in New Orleans for battery on his daughter Adrienne on November 18, 2000. The arrest documents indicate that Stewart “was involved in an (sic) physical confrontation with his daughter in an attempt to obtain visitation rights of his (sic) younger daughter.”
The (complete) arrest reports lists Adrienne’s age as 14, her mother (Stewart’s ex-wife) Dianne as the reporting party, and his other daughter Andria as a witness. Stewart was serving as a judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeal and living in Shreveport at the time of his arrest. [Complete Court Documents(20 pages)]
Edwin R. Murray, a New Orleans attorney, enrolled to represent Stewart. Murray continued the case several times—citing conflicts with his schedule as a legislator in Baton Rouge. (Murray was a State Senator) The case was finally set for trial on August 20, 2001 and subpoena were issued to 3 Stewarts — Adrienne, Andria and Diane. The subpoena indicated an appearance date and time of August 30— not August 20 as set by court order. The file documents indicate that the case was dismissed on August 20th — with no further annotations. Apparently, the 3 witnesses who were subpoenaed were not in court because of the confusion on the court dates which may have been the reason for dismissal.
Other theories that has been floating around the local courthouses for the dismissal of the battery charge are political influence and the reality of crime in New Orleans. Stewart was a judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals at the time of his arrest and his brother Carl was sitting on the (federal) Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. His attorney was a politically connected state senator and the black population of New Orleans exceeded 65%. Then, as now, New Orleans had a very high crime rate, and especially of more severe crimes like rape, murder and robbery. Also, domestic violence/batteries against family members, especially with black on black crimes, was not a social priority as it is today.
The dismissal should not be considered, on its face, as a sign of no wrongdoing by Stewart. This arrest is fair game for public inquiry, – – just like the pre-campaign activities of the Stewart camp. The public should carefully review all DA candidates and past actions should be considered just as important as touted credentials. Stewart will most likely be questioned about the timing of his resignation from his judgeship, his retirement pay while campaigning – – and his court opinions while serving. Hopefully he will be much more candid once he becomes a candidate than he has to date; if not voters should ignore his name on the October ballot.