Two lawyers, one open judgeship and one set of court documents containing scandalous allegations.
That's a recipe for turning a political runoff into a bitter, personal fight. In this case, it's the campaign for the Criminal Court Section A seat between Juana Renee Marine-Lombard and Laurie White. The two women face each other in Saturday's (Nov. 17) runoff for the seat vacated by Judge Charles Elloie, who retired while under investigation for multiple allegations of judicial misconduct.
Lombard led the Oct. 20 primary with 27 percent of the vote, followed closely by White with 25 percent. Four other candidates split the remaining votes.
The two candidates are disputing a packet of court records circulated to the media recently about Lombard's former marriage to a now-disbarred lawyer and what the judicial candidate knew or allegedly should have known about a corrupt law practice he operated in New Orleans in the 1990s.
'I'm flabbergasted that she would run for judge with this kind of personal history," White says of Lombard.
Lombard, whose downtown law office is located one block from her opponent's, dismissed White's allegations as 'smoke and mirrors" by a desperate opponent. 'What she's doing is going into my divorce file, going through public records and dropping off packages in the middle of the night," Lombard says of White. 'If that's not "politics as usual,' I don't know what is."
The packet's contents are personal, legal and political dynamite for what is expected to be a low-turnout affair.
Lombard, who divorced Jason Rochon in 1999, says she learned that her ex-husband was stealing from his injured clients after his mental illness and substance abuse torpedoed their marriage and wrecked his legal career. Rochon served four months in federal prison for mail fraud after his conviction in 2000 for paying 'runners" for illegal referrals to his firm, Jason Rochon & Associates. Lombard has since remarried. Her current husband, Darren Lombard, is also her campaign manager. The couple has five children.
An independent insurance investigator who worked the so-called Canal Street Cartel lawyer fraud cases says there was no evidence of any wrongdoing by Lombard, whose name then was Juana Marine Rochon. 'Her name never surfaced in the investigation," the investigator says.
White maintains that Lombard should have known about the criminal conduct at her husband's law firm because she worked there as his office manager. Lombard attributes her lack of knowledge about her husband's misdeeds to spousal betrayal.
'You know, they always say the wife is the last to know," Lombard said, testifying Feb. 5 before a Louisiana State Bar Association disciplinary hearing requested by her ex-husband, who was seeking to return to the practice of law five years after his disbarment. In an Oct. 22 decision, the hearing panel rejected Rochon's appeal.
Rochon, a native New Orleanian, and Lombard, a native of Lafayette, met in 1991 at Loyola University. He was a first-year law student. She was pursuing a master's degree in business administration, which she earned a year before their marriage on Dec. 26, 1992.
He graduated from law school in 1993 and started his own law firm in March 1994. Lombard testified she worked there as 'secretary, legal assistant [and] office manager."
In the fall of 1995, Lombard went to law school, part time. She reduced her role at the law firm to 'primarily office manager" overseeing a legal assistant, according to her recent bar testimony.
In 1996, Lombard became a full-time law student, but still monitored the growing office. Meanwhile, Rochon worked long hours, setting up additional law offices in Lafayette and Baton Rouge.
Sometime in 1997 another lawyer, Mike Palmisano, joined the firm and took over as office manager. Lombard, who was pregnant and taking classes, said she rarely went into the office after Palmisano arrived 'except for staff problems."
In August 1997, the couple had a daughter. Lombard returned to law school a week later, but had little time for the firm. She graduated from law school in May 1998, passed the state bar exam that summer and was sworn in as a lawyer on Oct. 9, 1998. As she focused on the baby and the bar, her marriage suffered, according to her testimony. Her then-husband's emotional problems surfaced and were aggravated by alcohol, marijuana and cocaine abuse.
In late 1998, Rochon's medical condition deteriorated. He stopped going to work for 10 days. Meanwhile, the law firm fell behind on state and federal taxes. In January 1999, Rochon was committed to a mental hospital. The couple divorced the next month and divided up their assets.
Lombard says she was never a business partner at the Rochon firm. She retained a 10 percent interest in attorneys' fees from some of Rochon's cases under a community property agreement. However, a judge put the law firm into receivership in 1999 and she says she never saw any money.
Lombard says she and her ex-husband resolved payment of back taxes in 2004 and that her long ordeal is finally over. She describes herself as a stronger person as a result. 'I think it built a character or a fortitude in me that I will take to the bench."
Both candidates are appealing fines by the state ethics board for failing to meet deadlines for campaign finance disclosure reports.
- Juana Renee Marine-Lombard says opponent Laurie White is bringing up Marine-Lombard's past history to hurt her at the polls.