by John Settle
It’s a question that has been asked since Day 1 after James Stewart announced his candidacy for the Caddo District Attorney race on August 13. And like many questions about the Stewart candidacy, it has not been answered.
Most politicos believe that Stewart’s best shot at becoming the next DA for Caddo Parish was in the October 21 primary, and that a variety of unexpected factors prevented what many in his campaign believed was a slam dunk victory. And now there is street talk that some of the campaign insiders are skeptical of a Stewart victory on November 21— and that he may seek to reclaim his old seat.
Some political observers say that Stewart can not run again for a judicial seat since he is drawing his judicial retirement. Others contend that it’s an open question and that it is a distinct possibility he can seek that office again. Seemingly all the “normal” rules have not applied to Stewart’s candidacy—starting with the “Run James Run” campaign which was followed by a formal DA announcement before retirement—and thus it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Stewart could be on the ballot for the court vacancy.
The election to fill Stewart’s open seat on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals will be on March 5, 2016. Any unspent campaign funds in Stewart’s DA campaign bank account—plus any remaining funds from the $406,000 political action committee (PAC) of New York billionaire George Soros– can also be spent on a judicial campaign by Stewart. When Stewart retired on September 8 he had over 9 years remaining on his term and an annual paycheck in excess of $152,000.
This particular seat will be decided by Caddo Parish voters only. How much traction Stewart will get if he tries to reclaim his old judicial seat is an open question. Many in the black community are now saying that he has become, in effect, an “Uncle Tom” by allowing his campaign to be run by white attorneys. Additionally, Stewart would probably lose votes, both white and black, on the basis of being a “loser” trying to get back on the public dole.
Initially courthouse wags said the Caddo Juvenile Judge Shonda Stone had staked out her claim to Stewart’s seat and that she had picked Renee Casey to be her successor. That talk later died down…it being said that is “wasn’t her turn” to run for the Second Circuit. Interestingly enough, the “wait your turn” language was first attributed to then Stewart last fall; he reportedly called attorneys who were considering opposing his niece Karelia Stewart’s candidacy for a Caddo Parish judgeship. Karelia ultimately ran unopposed for this spot.
As far as African American candidates, Caddo Judges John Moseley and Ramon Lafitte are often mentioned as leading candidates; if Stewart is in the mix it is doubtful that another African American will jump into this race. Another name that will undoubtedly surface after the upcoming general election will be Caddo Juvenile Judge David Matlock who ran unsuccessfully for the Second Circuit bench in 2012 against Caddo Judge Frances Pitman. And many in the courthouse crowd will not be surprised if Caddo district judge Mike Pitman does not run for the Second Circuit. Some politicos think that Trina Chu may be gearing up for this campaign; she surprised Caddo voters by her last minute entry last fall into the Caddo judgeship race against Charles Tutt who won handily.
Unlike the prohibition of the Judicial Canons against declaring for a non-judicial office, sitting judges can declare their intentions to run for a judicial seat—be that their current position or a judgeship on another court. (This restriction did not, however, slow down Stewart from declaring for the DA race while still drawing a judge’s paycheck). Thus it will not be surprising if announcements are made by the end of the year by those who want to run for this judgeship – – both by sitting judges and non-judges.
Lawyers will, of course, be looked to for contributions to this judicial race. Since this seat is only for 1 of 9 on the Second Circuit, it is unlikely that criminal defense attorneys will line up to contribute as they have in the Stewart race—much less give the maximum of $5000 like many have for Stewart, both in the primary and in the runoff. Often the personal injury attorneys along with insurance defense attorneys get more involved that criminal attorneys in elections for appellate seats like the Second Circuit.
Needless to say, a judicial race rarely draws much real public interest outside the legal community and voters are generally draw to the polls by the other elections on the ballot. The March 2016 ballot will also have the Louisiana presidential primary—which in and of itself may not be much of a factor unless substantial sums are expended by the candidates/political parties. Thankfully for Caddo voters this election is almost 5 months away.