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The Tardy Twenty

The State Board of Ethics fines 20 judges for late campaign finance reports.

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The Louisiana Board of Ethics has rejected appeals by 20 state judges -- including one appellate court judge -- who were fined for filing late campaign finance reports. Records show that the ethics board initially hit 23 judges with late fees but three jurists -- including a second appellate court judge -- successfully appealed and were not fined.

The 20 judges whose waiver requests were rejected by the board Nov. 14-15 may ask for reconsideration, ethics board staff attorney Kathleen Allen says. If the board declines to reconsider the fine, the judges may then appeal the decision to the state First Court of Appeals. The late fees range from $480 to $1,100.

The large number of judges fined is "unusual," ethics board staff attorney Maris McCrory says. The penalties come on the heels of painstaking efforts by the Louisiana Supreme Court over the last year to clean up the image of state judicial campaigns. All 23 judges who petitioned the Ethics Board for clemency from the campaign fines were elected without opposition in the Oct. 5 primary election, records show.

Most of those judges were still "apparently unaware they still needed to file based on their waiver requests to the Board," McCrory says. Moreover, recent changes in campaign finance laws "automatically" required campaign filings by several judges who were not required to file the reports in previous elections, she says.

New Orleans Criminal Court Judge Arthur L. Hunter Jr. -- the only judge in the city fined by the Ethics Board in the Oct. 5 primary election -- also registered the highest penalty: a $1,100 late fee for filing a campaign report 11 days late. If the penalty against the judge stands, the fine will absorb almost one-quarter of the $4,699 left in his campaign fund, records show. In a letter to an ethics board staff attorney dated Oct. 21, Hunter said his failure to file a timely report was "due to miscommunication between myself and Mrs. Libby Smith," a campaign volunteer who filed his reports for the past six years. Hunter also stated that he and his staff have been diligent in their reports in previous campaigns.

At its regular mid-November meeting at Baton Rouge, the ethics board declined Hunter's request along with those of 19 other judges: Judge Mary Hotard, 40th Judicial District Court (JDC), $600, 11 days late; Judge Jenifer Ward Clayson, 2nd JDC, $480, eight days late; Judge Bruce Bolin, 26th JDC, $600, 11 days late; Judge Dewey Burchett, 26th JDC, $480, eight days late; Judge Alonzo Harris, 27th JDC, $480, eight days late; Judge George "Hal" Ware, 20th JDC, $480, eight days late; Judge Ford E. Stinson Jr., 26th JDC, $480, eight days late; Judge Glynn D. Roberts, 5th JDC, $480, eight days late; Judge Kirk Vaughn, 34th JDC, $480, eight days late;

Judge Aaron McGee, 27th JDC, $480, eight days late; Judge Robert A. Buckley, 34th JDC, $180, three days late; Judge Charles Peatross, Second Circuit Court of Appeal, $1,000, 11 days late; Judge Ramona Emanuel, 1st JDC, $600, 11 days late; Judge Patricia Minaldi, 14th JDC, $600, 10 days late; Judge Jimmy C. Teat, 2nd JDC, $600, 11 days late; New Orleans Criminal Court Judge Arthur Hunter, $1,110, 11 days late; Judge Cynthia Woodard, 3rd JDC, $600, 11 days late; Judge Luke LaVergne, East Baton Rouge Parish Family Court Judge, $600, 18 days late; Judge Wilson Fields, 19th JDC, $600; 11 days late; Judge R. Wayne Smith, 3rd JDC, $600, 14 days late.

The ethics board accepted appeals and waived late fees from two judges: Judge Felicia Toeny Williams, Second Circuit Court of Appeal, $800; and Judge T. Leo Boothe of the 7th Judicial District Court, $720. Both judges were also elected without opposition Oct. 5. Five city court judges, from Breaux Bridge to Thibodaux, also received fines for late campaign finance reports. Of the five, only one successfully appealed to the ethics board.

Asked if the ethics board cases involving the penalized judges would be forwarded to the state Judiciary Commission for further review, McCrory said, "No. They get our (monthly) agendas."

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