Testy barbs and a legal challenge over the veracity of one candidate's ads have roiled the two-woman race for a seat on the state's 4th Circuit Court of Appeal.
Civil District Court Judge Regina Bartholomew-Woods and Criminal District Court Judge Laurie White, both of Orleans Parish, present voters with a sharp contrast in backgrounds.
White, 57, touts her decades in the trenches of criminal and civil legal work, along with nine years as a sharp-tongued jurist who wears her disdain for District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro as a badge of honor.
She argues that the appeals court is in desperate need of her experience, now that Judge James McKay is the only one of the 4th Circuit's 12 judges who has sat on a criminal court bench.
"When I hit court, I am all in. I'm involved in the arguments. I'm involved in knowing the defendants, their families, the lawyers, the issues. I plan to be the same way in the next court," White said.
"When you have three judges on a panel and not one of them is a criminal law expert, I think you're going to get a different perspective on a case."
Bartholomew-Woods, 45, claims equanimity as an asset, painting White's "bombastic" demeanor — and her jousting with the district attorney — as a hazard for an appeals court that settles most legal disputes arising from the district courts in Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes.
"What I do every day in court, what I strive to do, is keep in mind the courtroom is not my courtroom. The judgeship is not my judgeship. I serve at the people's will," she said.
"If you're having personality conflicts where you are, how can you expect to go on and work cohesively with colleagues?"
Having won a seat on the civil court bench in 2011, Bartholomew-Woods casts her pursuit of an appeals court seat as a "natural progression" in a varied civil law career.
That career includes work as an attorney for the solicitor's office at the U.S. Department of Labor and as general counsel for the Orleans Parish School Board and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system in North Carolina.
Bartholomew-Woods, who ran a failed campaign for Congress in 2006, credits her "stellar" track record for the litany of endorsements she has received from Cannizzaro, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Sheriff Marlin Gusman and U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, among others.
"I'm proud of those endorsements," she said at a recent forum. "I wear them well."
White, who along with Criminal District Court Judge Arthur Hunter launched the state's first "re-entry court" for nonviolent offenders, began her career as a prosecutor and was a high-profile criminal defense attorney before assuming the bench.
She portrays the political star power backing Bartholomew-Woods as the paid-for spoils of marrying well. Bartholomew-Woods is wed to Jimmie Woods, owner of the New Orleans trash collection company Metro Service Group. Woods, a frequent political contributor, serves as her campaign chairman.
White also notes that well over half of the matters heard by the 4th Circuit Court — both appeals and writs — involve criminal matters.
"What do you want looking at an appeal? You want a criminal law expert, not a civil lawyer that's never tried a case in criminal court," White said. "You sure don't want a hairdresser being a welder. So why would you put somebody on that court that doesn't know how to do welding?"
Bartholomew-Woods dismisses that argument. She said most areas of criminal law are largely settled but that "the civil side is expansive, and ever-evolving, and voluminous."
"To say you need a criminal judge or someone with criminal experience slights every judge that's there minus Judge McKay. It says they're not doing something right, and I think that's just disingenuous," she said.
White's roster of endorsements includes a bevy of criminal defense attorneys, along with City Councilwomen Susan Guidry and Stacy Head.
Bartholomew-Woods said White's claim to independence isn't for lack of effort. They fought for the same top-tier endorsements, she said.
Through a spokesman, Cannizzaro confirmed that White solicited his backing. On the campaign trail, though, White has used her enmity for the district attorney as a selling point.
"We are saving lives by having judges with courage to stand up to a district attorney that overcharges, uses the (habitual offender law) too often and who insists on maximum sentences and maximum charges," White said.
The two judges have sparred in recent weeks over several claims that Bartholomew-Woods has made in TV ads and glossy mailers.
In a complaint with the state's Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee, White alleges that Bartholomew-Woods falsely claims she's never been overturned by the Louisiana Supreme Court.
White cited one case last year in which the 4th Circuit reversed a ruling by Bartholomew-Woods to disqualify a state legislative candidate, and the Supreme Court endorsed that ruling by denying an appeal.
In response, Bartholomew-Woods stood by her claim, arguing that the high court "did not affirmatively reverse" her ruling in the case.
A bitter two-woman race for a seat on the state appeals court in New Orleans just got a litt…
White also has challenged her opponent's claim to a near-spotless reversal rate. In TV ads, Bartholomew-Woods has boasted that her rulings have been upheld "98 percent of the time by higher courts."
It's back to the print shop for Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Regina Bartholomew…
Her attorneys say that rate is based on five reversals out of "thousands of trials and rules activity" in cases that Bartholomew-Woods has touched while on the bench. Her attorneys describe White's complaint as "outlandish" and "nothing more than frivolous, political gamesmanship."
But according to statistics provided by White's campaign, the judges' rates for being upheld on appeals are relatively similar — 80 percent for Bartholomew-Woods, 71 percent for White.
White sued Bartholomew-Woods this month over the latter's claims of "unanimous" labor union support and the backing of a longshoremen's union local. Bartholomew-Woods agreed in a consent judgment to pull those references from all future political ads.
But hours later, her campaign workers were slapping brochures claiming the same union's endorsement on the windshields of cars outside a candidates forum.
On Thursday, Civil District Judge Christopher Bruno declined to hold Bartholomew-Woods, his colleague on the bench, in contempt. On the spectrum of New Orleans political shenanigans, Bruno said, "I mean, honestly, it's not that big of a deal."
The election is Nov. 8.