Baton Rouge attorney Ronald Johnson violated the Louisiana Code of Judicial Conduct for the third time in his attempt to secure a seat in Baton Rouge's district court, according to findings that the Louisiana Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee released late Monday.

Johnson, a Democrat, faces a Nov. 16 runoff against Republican Trae Welch, who is an East Baton Rouge Metro Council member and a Zachary city prosecutor.

The Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee — which operates under the Louisiana Supreme Court — announced Monday it had received a second complaint against Johnson's campaign over a mailer comparing his experience with Welch's.

After the first complaint was filed against Johnson earlier in the campaign cycle, he posted a disclaimer on his website and sent out letters in June in which he acknowledged having broken two judicial canons. The acknowledgement was the result of an informal resolution he reached with the committee after a complaint he personally solicited campaign contributions and wore a judge's robe in campaign materials — both practices that aren’t allowed for judicial candidates.

The new, second complaint took issue with a mailer Johnson's campaign sent out and posted on social media that says Welch had no experience trying civil cases, probate cases, family law cases and more.

"A review of the public records of the East Baton Rouge Clerk of Court’s Office, however, demonstrate that Mr. Welch has in fact handled numerous civil, probate, and family law cases," reads a statement from retired Judge Melvin Zeno, the chairman of the Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee and a former Jefferson Parish district judge.

"The Committee believes that the mailer and statements made by the Johnson Campaign mislead the public and misrepresent Mr. Welch’s legal experience."

Welch praised the finding.

“The truth is something that a judge should hold in the highest regard,” Welch said. “Most people will know that I have the experience and this is a ridiculous piece. But at the same time, there are people out there who don’t know who I am who may take his word for it. As a judge, you’re supposed to find the truth.”

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Johnson’s campaign manager, Daniel Banguel, said that when they researched the information for the mailer, they searched Welch's background by using the nickname "Trae" rather than Welch's given first name, "Jewel."

"There was no possible way for us to know that was his government name," Banguel said. “There was nothing malicious about it, there was nothing to mislead anyone."

But the committee determined that Johnson violated a judicial canon that states people running for judge shall not “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.”

Though the oversight committee investigates whether people running for judge have violated judicial canons, the committee has no power to discipline candidates for rule-breaking. The committee is limited to releasing public statements about campaign activities they deem to violate judicial canons, only if at least eight of its 15 members determine clear and convincing evidence a violation occurred.

Johnson, Banguel and Welch said they did not know the outcome of the committee's investigation until an Advocate reporter called them Monday about the findings.

“We stand by everything that we printed," said Johnson, a former assistant attorney general and past East Baton Rouge School Board member.

When Johnson acknowledged in June that he had violated two judicial canons, one of them was the same violation that a candidate shall not knowingly make a false statement about oneself or another candidate. The other canon he said he broke was that that a judicial candidate shall not personally solicit campaign contributions, as judges rely on campaign committees to raise funds for them.

“It just comes down to integrity,” Welch said. “It’s hard to unring the bell here at the end, but I just want people to consider the person and their record and make the best choices for their next judge.”

Both candidates come from families well-connected in the state’s judiciary. Johnson is the twin brother of Baton Rouge district Judge Donald Johnson, and Welch is the son of First Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Jewel “Duke” Welch.

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