A temporary restraining order was issued Friday to halt dissemination of what Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Chris Bruno called false advertising ahead of Tuesday’s election.
Interim Civil District Court Judge Lynn Luker granted the order against Ruth Ramsey, who is running against Bruno for the Division F seat in the same court. Luker also issued the order to Van Howenstine, a small-business owner in Algiers.
The advertising alleged that Bruno tried to close down the historic Algiers Courthouse and “pushed for legislation” to do so, according to court documents. Bruno called the email pamphlet, which claimed to have a link to a legislative bill signed by Bruno, “false and defamatory in nature.”
“Judge Chris Bruno pushed for legislation — the Bruno Bill — to shut down the courthouse and cut off services to the West Bank, and these documents prove it,” reads the letter supposedly signed by Howenstine, the owner of Van’s Snowballs. “Bruno wanted to sacrifice the people of Algiers for his own political gain.”
The email claims to link to “the Bruno Bill,” but the link actually goes to Senate Bill No. 787, introduced by Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, of Baton Rouge, during the 2010 legislative session, according to Bruno’s lawsuit. The document adds that not only is Bruno’s name not on the bill, which did not pass, but that as a judge, he has no authority to sign such a bill.
Bruno has been a judge since 2009.
“Judge Bruno has never affixed his name to any bill, and any assertion to the contrary is false,” his suit says.
It is against Louisiana law to make a false statement about a candidate for election. In an email to Ramsey and her campaign staff, Luker said Howenstine needed to stop circulating the pamphlet immediately.
“Mr. Howenstine has been advised that I am signing this temporary restraining order and thus he must take immediate action to prevent any further dissemination of the materials complained of in this petition,” Luker wrote.
According to Karen Carvin Shachat, a campaign consultant for Bruno, Howenstine told the court that the pamphlet had been sent without his authorization.
Kevin Stuart, president of Teddlie Stuart Media Partners, working for Ramsey, said, “We did extensive research” about Bruno’s alleged involvement in an effort to close the Algiers Courthouse “and confirmed the allegations with multiple sources. … What was said in the mail piece is true.”
St. Charles Parish DA blasts parish judge
St. Charles Parish District Attorney Joel Chaisson II had strong words last week for Judge Michele Morel, who is in the homestretch of a tough campaign for re-election to the 29th Judicial District Court bench in Hahnville.
Chaisson has endorsed the judge’s opponent in the race, Destrehan lawyer Tim Marcel.
Tuesday’s election is a rematch between the two, following a tightly contested race for the same Division E seat in a 2012 special election, which Marcel lost by 168 votes.
The first-term district attorney sent Marcel a letter last week commending him for “the positive and professional way” he has run his campaign and saying Chaisson was “deeply offended by the tactics” used by Morel. The letter was posted Saturday on the Facebook page for Marcel’s campaign.
In the runup to both elections, Marcel’s past legal troubles at times became a focus of the race. While enrolled in college and law school, he was arrested three times on drunken driving charges. In one case, he completed a court diversion program; in another, he was not convicted; and in the third, he was convicted.
“Any mistakes that you may have made decades ago are of no concern to me compared to the egregious mistakes that your opponent has made the past two years as a judge,” Chaisson wrote. “Her mistakes affect the lives of people today and call into question her competency to be a judge.”
Chaisson continued: “If your opponent didn’t have such a poor record, she would not have to make her case for re-election by ruthlessly attacking you with stale, false and misleading slurs against your good character.”
In an earlier letter that was circulated to parish residents, Marcel addressed the arrests, describing them as “a challenging part” of his life and saying he has been sober for 17 years.
Chaisson and Morel got into a public dust-up last month after a court filing by Morel disclosed the name, address and phone number of the alleged teenage victim at the center of high-profile sex allegations involving two local high school teachers.
At the time, Chaisson said he was “extremely disappointed” that Morel disclosed the information in a court filing she made to recuse herself from the case.
After Chaisson’s remarks last month, Morel issued a statement saying she would “accept responsibility for any oversight” but largely blaming parish Clerk of Court Lance Marino, who in turn blamed Morel and said he had worked quickly to notify Chaisson of the disclosure after the fact.
Morel is the daughter of longtime parish District Attorney Harry Morel, who preceded Chaisson in office.
Last year, Michele Morel drew the ire of the state Attorney General’s Office, which accused her of questioning a 10-year-old girl’s claims of being raped by a relative.
Prosecutors in the case filed a motion requesting that the trial be reassigned because of Morel’s self-described “rant and rave” in court, highlighted by comments she made in a pretrial hearing in which she asked a deputy to remove the girl from the courtroom and berated the child’s mother and a victims’ advocate for bringing her to court. She has declined comment on the incident.
Compiled by Della Hasselle and Richard Thompson