Ad, Flyers and Billboard Encouraging Judge Stewart To Run for DA Just Appear—Like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and The Tooth Fairy!
It’s a new twist to Shreveport politics—and one that could set the stage for future political strategies or backfire on the unannounced but definitely interested (as in very interested) candidate. Its old news that Second Circuit Court of Appeals Judge James Stewart is giving serious consideration to a bid to become Caddo’s first black District Attorney. And in fact Stewart’s game plan was upset by the untimely and unfortunate death of former Caddo DA (Judge) Charles Scott; Stewart was to retire in a few years, become the First Assistant DA and then run for DA when Scott’s term expired.
True to this nature Stewart has been very elusive in discussions about running for the DA’s office for good reason—the judicial canons of ethics require his resignation if he declares that he is or will be a candidate. Even before Scott’s death Stewart was always coy when answering any questions about his future political plans, although behind the scenes he was very active—probably more that the judicial canons allowed. Referred to by many in the black community as “Wait your turn James”, Stewart has reportedly called many candidates to discourage them from running in local judicial campaigns including last fall’s election bid by his niece Karelia Stewart.
Stewart’s election plans will probably sit on hold until another major black candidate emerges, and if there is to be one it is likely to be Ron Lattier. Retired Judge Leon Emanuel toyed with the idea of running, although his standing in the black community torpedoed those thoughts. Stewarts’ financial problems with an early retirement from the Second Circuit are a limiting factor along with the reality of no paychecks during a campaign as well as no real job prospects if he comes up short. Qualifying for the October 24 primary is September 8-10 and Stewart can anticipate a runoff campaign to be determined on November 3.
A big issue that could derail Stewart is the ad that appeared in the June 24-July 7 issue of The Forum: “Judge James Stewart..Run James Run..District Attorney”. The ad did not identify who paid for the same; local attorney Ross Owens has acknowledged that he purchased the ad. And a similar billboard may sprout up in the future on the corner of Youree Drive Extension and Olive Street. At the recent Good Times Roll Festival on June 20th attorney Will Pryor passed out flyers with the “Run James Run” message; like the Forum ad it encouraged readers to register online their support for a Stewart race.
Not surprisingly—but yet surprisingly—Judge James disclaims any knowledge of the efforts by Owens to draft him for the DA race. His response to a detailed email–inquiring if he approved of the (Forum) ad, if he knew it was going to run, if he discussed the same with Owens, if he had obtained an advisory opinion and lastly the same series of questions regarding the Youree Drive/Olive billboard—was answered “I don’t know anything.” If Stewart had acknowledged his participation in these promotions he could have triggered a Judicial Commission investigation—which still could happen since it is rumored that a complaint has been filed with this oversight body. In reality this is not a real hurdle for Stewart unless he stays on the appellate bench and does not run for DA; the Commission operates in secrecy and is very very slow to take enforcement action.
Perhaps Owens (and Stewart?) is relying on a 1976 Supreme Court advisory opinion rendered on the question of whether or not a sitting judge could “engage in activities to enlist personal and/or financial support and to test support for (your) candidacy for Mayor…” This opinion referenced Judicial Canon 7 that requires a judge to resign his office when be becomes a candidate for a non-judicial office; Canon 7 (A Judge Should Refrain from Political Activity Inappropriate to His Judicial Office.) lists political “dos” and “don’ts” for judges. The Supreme Court also reviewed Canon 2 (A Judge Should Avoid Impropriety and the Appearance of Impropriety in All His Activities) in determining that it would be violation of both Canons for a sitting judge to solicit and accept campaign funds and contributions prior to the start of a campaign for mayor (a non-judicial post) before resigning from the bench. The opinion did, however, authorize “a preliminary survey in which inquiries are made as to the availability of voting support and financial support.” The opinion concluded that once a judge has “made a decision to be a candidate and begins to actually accept campaign funds”, then he must resign.
As for Owens, his only comment is that he believes Stewart is the best candidate for DA. Owens, a defense attorney, had entertained the notion of running for the DA position himself; the lack of support among lawyers quickly killed that dream. Many believe his draft Stewart effort can only be a poorly disguised campaign to be named First Assistant DA if Stewart is elected. The significance of a white attorney openly campaigning for a black candidate is not to be diminished, despite the fact that Ross is not well known within the legal community much less the white community as a whole. And there is open speculation if expenses for the ad, the flyers and the billboard where actually funded by Ross who has never participated actively in local political elections.
If Stewart runs for DA he will be hounded throughout the campaign (at least in the white community) by the “Run James Run” efforts. In politics perception is reality, and the perception of any wrongdoing by the Stewart camp could be devastating. Rounding off corners and taking political shortcuts may be okay in some elections, but when a judge runs for DA most voters expect a higher standard. After all the District Attorney will be the face of the criminal justice system for Caddo Parish as well as key political leader not only for the Parish but northwest Louisiana. No doubt there’s more to this “Run James Run” campaign; hopefully, it will be fully revealed before the October election.