When qualifying for the Nov. 4 election closed Aug. 22, all but one of the 22nd Judicial District Court’s 12 judges had won re-election without opposition. Dawn Amacker, a family court judge, was the lone incumbent facing an opponent.
That challenger is Nanine McCool, a Mandeville family law specialist. McCool is facing a challenge of her own, and she was in Baton Rouge on Thursday morning, defending herself in a hearing before the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board.
If the board follows the recommendation of its hearing committee and suspends McCool for a year and a day, she would be disqualified from running against Amacker.
McCool said the entire proceeding is an effort to quash her vocal criticism of Amacker.
McCool is before the board because of a 2011 case in which she represented the mother of two small girls and the mother’s new husband, who wished to adopt the two girls as his own. When the new husband moved for the adoption, the mother was enmeshed in a custody battle with the girls’ biological father in Mississippi. The mother accused the biological father of sexually abusing the two girls and tried to have his parental rights curtailed.
Amacker, to whom the adoption case — which was filed in St. Tammany Parish — was allotted, delayed a decision until the matter in Mississippi could be resolved. She also denied a motion for emergency custody that McCool filed on behalf of the children’s mother — to prevent, McCool said, further abuse by the biological father.
The children’s mother, aided by McCool, took to the Internet, creating online petitions and describing on social media sites evidence of the alleged abuse and asking readers to imagine how they would feel if the little girls were their daughters.
The online petitions and comments also urged people to contact Amacker, the Mississippi judge, their staffs and the Louisiana Supreme Court and admonish them to “follow the law” and “protect the children.” The sites provided contact information for Amacker and the Mississippi judge, and a copy of one petition was faxed to both judges.
McCool also went after the judges on Twitter, in December 2011 urging The Lens to “focus ur lens on Y Judge Amacker won’t protect these girls” and in August 2011 tweeting, “Judges are supposed to know s--- about … the law … aren’t they. And like evidence and s---? Due process?”
The online broadsides, which McCool admits were designed to be inflammatory, resulted in formal charges being filed against her in November of last year. The charges allege that her comments violated several rules of professional conduct, including seeking to influence a judge, attempting to have illegal communication with a judge, engaging in dishonest, misleading or fraudulent conduct, and prejudicing the administration of justice.
An email to Amacker’s campaign and a message left at her office were not returned.
At the hearing Thursday, the three-judge panel did not tip its hand about which way it would rule, according to McCool’s attorney, Richard Ducote. The ruling could take weeks or months, he said. But if it follows a recommendation of the Attorney Disciplinary Board’s hearing committee, the board would suspend McCool for a year and a day, which would not only disqualify her from running against Amacker but also make it more difficult for McCool to apply for reinstatement than would a suspension of a year or less.
Even if she isn’t suspended, McCool likely faces an uphill battle against Amacker for the 22nd JDC’s Division L seat. Amacker’s website lists dozens of attorney endorsements, and her signs have been popping up around the parish. McCool had just $1,210 in her campaign war chest in late July. Amacker, on the other hand, had more than $87,000 to spend — much of it the result of a $65,000 loan she gave to her campaign.
McCool said she is not deterred.
“I know we are an underdog,” she said Thursday. “But it doesn’t faze me.”
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.