Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Sharon Marchman says three recent judicial conduct findings against her are simply opinions with no effect beyond distracting voters from her campaign as the only Republican candidate for state court of appeal.
Marchman, a Republican from Monroe, is campaigning for the Second Circuit Court of Appeal against Second Circuit Judge James “Jimbo” Stephens, an Independent from Baskin. Stephens is seeking re-election to the Second Circuit.
In response to three complaints filed by Stephens against Marchman, the Louisiana Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee issued three statements, citing Marchman with violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
The first violation, published Oct. 26, stemmed from Marchman’s remarks that Stephens belonged to the same party as U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is an Independent and a self-declared “democratic socialist.” The second violation, published Monday, concerned Marchman’s recent political ad on television in which her campaign referenced Stephens reversing a jury’s guilty verdict in a case that has not been fully adjudicated. The third violation, published Tuesday, claimed Marchman’s ad misled the public by stating Stephens’ law firm was “getting paid” to represent a man convicted of murdering a deputy sheriff, though the firm was appointed by the court to represent the defendant.
“I appreciate the commission taking a look into it,” said Stephens, of the committee’s findings. “I find it quite absurd to be compared to Bernie Sanders in light of my conservative values and record.”
“Every judge must follow the rules,” Stephens added.
In remarks to The Ouachita Citizen, Marchman dismissed the Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee’s findings as simply an opinion.
“I think this is an 11th hour, desperate attempt to divert voters’ attention,” Marchman said. “It’s the use of liberal media tactics. That’s what Independents do when they want to attack Trump Republicans.”
Meanwhile, the state Supreme Court and Louisiana Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee did not provide The Ouachita Citizen and its sister newspaper, The Franklin Sun in Winnsboro, with copies of Stephens’ two complaints as requested, as of Tuesday afternoon.
The election for the Second Circuit’s First District, Section 2A office will be featured on the ballot Tuesday, Nov. 6.
What is an Independent?
The Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee found that Marchman violated Canon 7A(9) of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Canon 7A(9) provides that a judge or judicial candidate 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.”
Stephens’ complaint centered on Marchman’s remarks that Stephens was a member of the same political party as Sanders. Marchman made that claim publicly at an Oct. 1 meeting of the Ouachita Parish Women’s Republican Club, which endorsed her candidacy for Second Circuit.
“My opponent says, ‘She was a Democrat,’ and well, I was a Democrat, and I grew older and matured,” said Marchman, drawing laughs at the Oct. 1 gathering. “Today I am a Republican just like you are. If we think for one moment that our Republican values are not under attack in our nation, and right here in our community in Ouachita Parish they are under attack.
“And one of the biggest enemies we have is the Independent Party, because they try to be Republicans or pass themselves off as Republicans. And that’s what my opponent is doing. He is a registered Independent, the party of Bernie Sanders. I am a registered Republican, the party of who? Donald Trump. That is a distinction that matters in this race.”
The Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee’s ruling rests on a distinction between the meaning of “Independent” in Louisiana and Vermont, which is Sanders’ state. In Vermont, the designation of “Independent” simply means the candidate has a “no-party” affiliation. In Louisiana, the “Independent Party” is a recognized political party.
“While Judge Marchman may properly inform the public about Judge Stephens’ party affiliation, the statement that a member of the Louisiana Independent Party is a member of Bernie Sanders’ party is false and misleads the public,” stated the Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee’s Oct. 26 ruling.
The Independent Party did not become a recognized political party in Louisiana until January 2017. When Stephens filed the paperwork to seek re-election earlier this year, he qualified as a member of the state’s Independent Party. He campaigned as a “no-party” candidate last year when he and Marchman first faced off in an election to the Second Circuit.
In remarks to The Ouachita Citizen on Tuesday, Marchman doubled down on her claims connecting Sanders and Stephens.
“I made my comments in early October that the leader of my party is Donald Trump, and the leader of the Independents is Bernie Sanders,” Marchman said. “My opponent waited until Oct. 22 to complain about that.”
Marchman claimed Stephens’ complaints served another purpose, too, referring to this newspaper’s recent reports on Stephens’ campaign paying a group owned and managed by Tyrone “K9” Dickens, a convicted drug dealer, to get out the vote and promote Stephens’ re-election campaign. As reported by this newspaper last week, Dickens and Stephens’ wife, Faith, claimed there were false accusations or lies circulating about Stephens paying Dickens, though state campaign finance records and Stephens’ remarks to this newspaper indicated otherwise.
“It is clear to me that my opponent is complaining about everything I’m doing, which is to divert attention from what he’s doing,” Marchman said. “I think it’s just to divert attention from the fact that I’m the only Republican in the race and to divert attention from the fact that he’s paid a convicted drug dealer, in his own words, to get out the vote.”
‘Getting paid,’ and verdict reversed
In its second ruling against Marchman, the Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee found that Marchman violated Canon 7A(9) and Canon 7A(10) of the Code of Judicial Conduct. As with the first finding, Canon 7A(9) concerns making false statements about an opponent. Canon 7A(10) prohibits a judge or judicial candidate from making “any statement that would reasonably be expected to affect the outcome or impair the fairness of a matter pending in any Louisiana state court.”
The finding resulted from a separate complaint filed by Stephens against Marchman, because of a political video ad created by the Committee to Elect Judge Sharon Marchman. The pertinent section of Marchman’s ad refers to a “burglar with a 12-page criminal history.”
“While Sharon Marchman has spent her 33-year career protecting you, her opponent, Jimbo Stephens’ law firm, Stephens and Stephens, was getting paid to defend Sonny James Caston, convicted of murdering a deputy sheriff, then he reversed a jury’s conviction of a burglar with a 12-page criminal history,” stated Marchman’s ad.
The “burglar” referenced in Marchman’s ad is Lance Andrew Johnson, who is awaiting a new trial in Third Judicial District Court in Lincoln Parish. On behalf of the Second Circuit, Stephens wrote an April 11 court opinion in State v. Lance Andrew Johnson reversing the jury’s conviction of Johnson and remanding the case to the district court for a new trial. According to Stephens’ court opinion, the guilty verdict was reversed because Johnson was “improperly tried by a six-person jury, rather than the constitutionally and statutorily mandated twelve-person jury,” the Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee found.
According to the Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee, Marchman’s ad misled the public and misrepresented the basis for Stephens’ ruling, thus constituting a “false statement” under Canon 7A(9). By directly commenting on the defendant’s “12-page criminal history,” Marchman’s ad could affect the outcome or impair the fairness of the ongoing case, thus constituting a violation of Canon 7A(10).
“Because a new trial has been ordered, it also is very likely that this defendant will appear again before the Second Circuit Court of Appeal, the Court on which Judge Marchman seeks to serve,” stated the Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee’s Oct. 29 ruling.
In a third ruling citing Marchman for violation of Canon 7A(9), the Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee said her campaign’s political ad referring to Sonny James Caston misrepresented the circumstances that led to Stephens’ law firm representing the man convicted of murdering a deputy sheriff.
“The complaint concerns a video advertisement created by the Committee to Elect Judge Sharon Marchman, which asserts that Judge Stephens’ law firm was “paid” to represent a criminal defendant, Sonny James Caston, against murder charges,” stated the Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee’s Oct. 30 ruling. “In fact, approximately 30 years ago, Judge Stephens’ father, Sonny Stephens, accepted an appointment by the court to represent an indigent criminal defendant who had a right to be represented by competent counsel at trial.”
Marchman, whose lawsuit against Fourth Judicial District Court officials for a cover-up of alleged criminal activity sparked controversy and was ultimately dismissed, did not waver from her claims about Stephens.
“Everything I have said about myself or my opponent has been true,” Marchman said. “Everything I put in my lawsuit was true. You can say a lot of things about me, but being a liar is not one of them.”
Marchman also directed several pointed remarks to the Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee.
Speaking of the committee, Marchman said, “It is simply a resource for judges.”
“It is the committee’s opinion as to whether there were any ethical violations,” she said. “We don’t even know who is on the committee.”
According to Marchman, she did not receive timely notification of the Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee’s findings.
“Even though the committee issued a statement on Friday, I didn’t receive official notification until Monday afternoon,” Marchman said. “I wasn’t given the opportunity to resolve it informally, which is how the committee’s own materials and rules say they’re supposed to proceed. I wasn’t given the opportunity to do that. I haven’t received any notification of the finding released in a statement yesterday.”
The Ouachita Citizen and The Franklin Sun reached out to the state Supreme Court as well as the Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee for comment but received no response prior to deadline Tuesday.