Mandeville lawyer Nanine McCool, who mounted a spirited challenge to 22nd Judicial District Court Judge Dawn Amacker last year, has been disbarred by the Louisiana Supreme Court.
McCool ran afoul of prohibitions against attorneys having illicit communications with judges, disseminating false information and engaging in “conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice,” according to a damning 41-page majority opinion authored by Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll.
McCool’s troubles started when she helped kick-start an online petition and social media campaign urging people to flood the offices of two judges — Amacker and a judge in Mississippi — with communications.
The two judges were handling various aspects of a custody battle over two girls. The actual custody case was in Mississippi, but McCool helped the girls’ stepfather file a petition to adopt the girls before Amacker in St. Tammany Parish.
McCool and the girls’ mother alleged that the girls had been the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of their father and claimed in their online petition that both judges had ignored or refused to hear the evidence.
Their efforts resulted in the Mississippi judge filing a complaint with Louisiana’s Attorney Disciplinary Board, which, after a two-day hearing, recommended that McCool be suspended for a year and a day. McCool appealed that recommendation to the Supreme Court, saying her efforts were an exercise of free speech.
A divided court decided to go much further, disbarring McCool.
Knoll wrote that McCool’s online activities were “an intolerable disservice to these traditions and our judicial system, which the constraints of our rules of professional conduct seek to safeguard against. Accordingly, we find her ethical misconduct warrants the highest of sanction — disbarment.”
Justice Scott Crichton was even more blistering in his concurring opinion.
“Perhaps respondent’s most astounding and egregious action is her complete and utter lack of remorse, and defiance in the face of her impending sanction,” he wrote. Only disbarment was an appropriate punishment, Crichton wrote.
But not all the justices agreed. Justices Greg Guidry and John Weimer, as well as Justice ad hoc James Cannella, agreed that a sanction was warranted but disagreed with disbarment.
Guidry and Cannella said they thought three years was appropriate, while Weimer agreed that some of what McCool had done was constitutionally protected speech and said she should be suspended for a year and a day, as the Attorney Disciplinary Board originally recommended.
McCool’s frustration with Amacker was so great that she challenged her in the 2014 election. Her campaign was focused on her grievances against Amacker, and on several occasions, she tried to force the judge to respond to some of her specific complaints, which Amacker refused to do.
The tactic failed: Amacker won with 72 percent of the vote.
Few surprises as officials are sworn in
There were laughs and tears, hugs and oaths, songs and prayers.
And when it was over, Covington’s elected leaders had been sworn in for another term.
Much like the recent election, in which every incumbent won, Wednesday’s swearing-in ceremony contained few surprises.
Councilman Rick Smith, who four years ago delivered a famously teary address, choked up again in his first few words, drawing laughs from the audience. Smith then made fun of himself, saying he had given himself 10-to-1 odds that he would cry.
But for the most part, Smith and the other City Council members followed the same rough script: Each thanked their family for support and the city’s employees for their hard work.
They praised Mayor Mike Cooper for his leadership and Police Chief Tim Lentz for helping turn around the Covington Police Department, a source of negative publicity four years ago.
More than one cited the positive relationship between the mayor and the council — a subtle dig at their sister city of Mandeville, where squabbles between the council and mayor are legendary.
Cooper, who was sworn in next by District Attorney Warren Montgomery, cited the accomplishments of his first term, including a comprehensive streets program and the reformation of the Police Department.
He offered a tribute to his father, longtime Covington Mayor Ernest Cooper, saying that if he were at the inauguration, he would be proud of what the city was becoming. He noted that he was taking the oath of office 48 years after his father first took the same oath.
Compiled by Faimon A. Roberts III