Fur is flying in the race for a seat on the Civil District Court bench in Orleans Parish, with the release this week of scathing mailers and TV ads from candidate Rachael Johnson, daughter of Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Johnson.
The ads target both of her opponents — attorneys Suzanne "Suzy" Montero and Marie Williams — in the race for a seat left open when Judge Regina Bartholomew-Woods moved last year to the appeals court bench.
Williams is the subject of a pair of political fliers, one of them distributed by Johnson's campaign, that feature her mug shot from an arrest in September in New Orleans on an attachment from Jefferson Parish.
Williams called the fliers an unscrupulous attack that falsely paints her as a criminal over a brief arrest from her failure to appear in 2015 at a hearing related to her bitter divorce.
No one has taken credit for the first flier, which appeared late last week on doorsteps in Algiers. It shows her mug shot under the fictitious masthead of the "New Orleans Times." The headline reads: "Marie Williams Arrested!"
Karen Carvin, a Johnson campaign consultant, said that flier didn't come from anyone in Johnson's campaign, but that once the details of Williams' booking were verified, the campaign sent out its own version of the attack mailer this week.
"On Sept. 7, 2016, Marie Williams was arrested and booked for violating a court order stemming from an accusation of assault," it reads. "If Marie Williams can't obey the law as a citizen, how can she apply the law as a judge?"
An incensed Williams threatened to sue.
"That was the lowest, most hurtful thing to me, to my family, my kids. I couldn't believe they would go that low," Williams said Wednesday. "They're making me look like I committed murder. I've had one speeding ticket. I ask myself, 'Why do I put myself through this?' I pray about it: 'God, are you using me for something?' I can't give up. If I give up, they win."
Marie Williams, a local lawyer making her second run at a seat on the Orleans Parish Crimina…
Williams was booked on an attachment issued on April 27, 2015, after she didn't appear for a hearing related to custody, court costs and other issues in a divorce proceeding lodged by her then-husband, Peter Brigandi, Jefferson Parish court records show.
Brigandi had earlier filed for a protective order, claiming Williams "has punched and kicked petitioner on numerous occasions. Defendant also has lunged at petitioner with a knife and threatened to stab petitioner on numerous occasions."
Williams denied those allegations and said Brigandi maliciously lodged his divorce petition in the wrong court. Williams had filed for divorce in Orleans Parish, where she also sought protective orders against Brigandi.
The attachment for Williams' arrest was issued a month after Williams and Brigandi agreed to dismiss their respective domestic abuse petitions in both courts. Their divorce was finalized in December 2015 in Orleans Parish.
Williams claims she was never served with the order to appear in the Jefferson court. According to Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman's office, Williams was released an hour after her booking. Nothing appears to have come from her arrest.
"I never had an assault charge. Why would you print that?" Williams said of the Johnson mailer. "After this is over, I'm going to sue them for slander and defamation. I'm not kidding."
New Orleans attorney Marie Williams, who last week launched her second bid for a seat on the…
Meanwhile, Johnson has launched a series of ads attacking Montero over a $15,000 tax lien that the IRS filed against her in 2011. The ads include a campaign mailer and a pair of TV spots set to a pair of classic tunes: the Everly Brothers' "Wake Up Little Susie" and Eddie Cantor's "If You Knew Susie."
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"If you knew that Suzy Montero didn't pay her income tax, would you still vote for her?" an announcer asks.
Montero filed for a temporary restraining order Wednesday seeking to halt the airing of the spots, calling them "patently false and misleading." But Civil District Judge Chris Bruno denied that bid.
In an interview, Montero described the tax lien as the result of a legitimate dispute over the amount of penalties and interest she owed from a late tax filing from 2008. She provided documents and copies of a check showing that she paid the IRS debt six days after the lien was issued. The lien was released in August 2011.
"I've always paid my taxes. I think citizens of the United States have the right to challenge whether or not a tax is due. I exercised that right, and the IRS came to a different decision," Montero said. "And when that decision was made, I paid it."
Montero accused Johnson of violating a state judicial canon that says judicial candidates can't "knowingly make, or cause to be made, a false statement concerning the identity, qualifications, present position or other fact concerning the candidate or an opponent."
The flier's suggestion that Montero didn't pay her taxes is a false statement, Montero said, and Johnson's campaign knew that she had resolved the lien.
"We're not saying she didn't pay the lien," Carvin responded. "We're just saying she had a lien."
The election is set for March 25. A runoff, if needed, will be April 29.