The election to fill the seat of now Caddo District Attorney James E. Stewart on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals will be on March 5 of next year; this is also the day of the Louisiana Presidential Primary. This election is from a minority sub district in Caddo Parish and only voters in that sub district may vote. The candidates must be residents of Caddo Parish, but not necessarily in the sub district.
Qualifying ended Friday, December 4; the candidates are Caddo Juvenile Judge Shonda Stone, Shreveport City Judge Sheva Sims and Shreveport attorney Trina Chu. Stone and Sims are African American and Chu is Asian; all three are Democrats. The voter breakdown for the district is 87 per cent black, 10 per cent white and 3 per cent other races. The victor will serve the remainder of Stewart’s term which ends in 2024; court of appeals judges serve 10 year terms.
To the surprise of many, Caddo District Judge Ramon Lafitte decided to not seek the Second Circuit seat. Lafitte initially indicated that he would qualify but decided to remain on the Caddo bench. Lafitte said that he enjoys serving in the trial court and interacting with lawyers and the public on a regular basis in his courtroom. He also believes that he can be more effective on the Caddo bench than on a 3 judge panel at the appeals court. The courthouse crowd was surprised- but very happy—with his decision.
The election will certainly provide the voters with distinct choices—in addition to the obvious one of skin color.
Judge Shonda is the daughter of the esteemed Jesse Stone, a pioneer black attorney and educator in Caddo Parish. She was elected to the Caddo Juvenile bench in 2009 and her current term expires on December 21, 2020. Prior to her election, she practiced law in Shreveport for 15 years, specializing in family and children’s law. She has an undergraduate degree from Southern University; her law degree is also from Southern University School of Law.
Judge Sheva was first elected as Shreveport City judge in 2011 to fill the unexpired term of Judge Randy Collins after his death. She was then elected to a full six-year term in 2014 that ends on December 31, 2020. Judge Sheva has an undergraduate degree from Dillard University; her law degree is from Southern University. Prior to her election she practiced law in Shreveport.
Chu ran unsuccessfully for the Caddo bench in the fall of last year; she was defeated by now Judge Charles Tutt. Her undergraduate degree is from Brown University and her law degree is from Western New England College. She also has an M.B.A. from Centenary College. Chu worked at Northwest Legal Services for 2 years before opening her own law office in 2005.
Other than their election races, Stone and Chu have been fairly low profile in Caddo politics—and the local media. Sims ran unsuccessfully in 2010 for the Shreveport City Council and was defeated in a hotly contested runoff election by Jeff Everson who was re-elected to his second term on the Council this past fall. Sims also made headlines earlier this year; on March 17 the Louisiana Supreme Court suspended her for 30 days without pay from her judgeship position. The Supreme Court found that Sims had committed willful misconduct on April 24, 2012 when she wrongfully held an assistant city prosecutor in contempt of court; she thereafter dismissed 15 cases on her court’s docket that day.
The entry of Chu in the race almost ensures a run off to decide this seat. Chu is expected to spend big bucks (probably self-funded) in an effort to introduce herself to the voters and convince black voters to vote for a non-black candidate. Stone receives high marks from the attorneys who practice in Juvenile Court as well as the court personnel. Sims, according to attorneys and court personnel, is inconsistent in her judicial temperament and rulings. Judicial races generally do not attract much public scrutiny and thus job performance is often the least important qualification to voters. Those who look closely at the candidates will most likely decide that Stone is the best person to replace Stewart on the court of appeals.