by John Settle
Its been a long time since a candidate for a local judgeship had a lock on the coveted black robe a year in advance, or for that matters 11 months before the election. But that’s the case for Caddo Assistant District Attorney, Karelia Stewart, who is poised to be the third member of the Stewart clan to sit on the Caddo bench.
Karelia is the daughter of Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Court E. Stewart. Stewart served as an assistant U.S. Attorney before his election to a Caddo judgeship in 1985. Thereafter he was elected to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in 1991 and was appointed by the President Bill Clinton to the Fifth Circuit Court in 1994.
Karelia is also the niece of Second Circuit Court of Appeals Judge James Stewart, who is Carl’s brother. Judge James served in the Caddo District Attorney’s office before his election to the Caddo bench in 1991. He was subsequently elected to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in 1994.
Karelia’s had an announcement reception and fundraiser in November; the event’s invitation had the names of over 250 attorneys with a requested event donation of $500. Many of the listed barristers appear in the drug court section (Karelia is the section chief) or regularly practice in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and/or The Western District of Louisiana federal court (and sometimes the Fifth Circuit of Appeals).
Karelia had the benefit of several realities that will accomplish her black robe dream. The first is the minority court system which ensures the election of 4 black judges. The number of black attorneys the Shreveport lawyer pool is very, very small compared to the white lawyers; thus representation on the bench is much higher, percentage wise, for black lawyers versus white lawyers.
Karelia also has the benefits of her family name, which she has retained after her marriage. As a young attorney she may not be well known in the judicial district, but her dad and uncle certainly are icons in the black community. As witnessed by the election of Caddo Juvenile Judge Shonda Stone, family names carry substantial weight in judicial elections especially in the black community.
Karelia’s campaign warchest is very large ($45,000 plus) and that fact alone is a major deterrent to potential opponents. And the reported call from her uncle to a potential candidate suggesting he wait until the next election to run for judge was certainly a factor in the mind of one aspiring candidate for this seat.
Under Caddo’s assignment by seniority system Karelia will most likely take the bench as a criminal judge, much to dismay of some criminal defense attorneys and reportedly to the Shreveport NAACP branch. As the section chief in drug court, some believe that she has not offered “fair” plea bargains to defendants, and especially to blacks. Karelia will only have eight years and eight months bar membership on election ; eight years is the requirement, – a fact that has raised concerns with some citizens.
It is highly unlikely that Karelia will draw an opponent, and it is really just a matter of time until she follows the footsteps of her dad and her uncle. In that sense she has big shoes to fill, and hopefully she is up to the task.