Despite sitting as an ad hoc judge for the Lafayette City Court, Ronald Cox has also been on the campaign trail, allegedly seeking support and money for his law partner Charles Fitzgerald in his run for a judgeship in the 15th Judicial District.
Cox is a former judge in the 15th Judicial District, who upon his retirement in 2002 was appointed by the Louisiana Supreme Court to serve as an ad hoc city court judge, which means he must abide by Louisiana’s Code of Judicial Conduct, just like any other judge in the state. Cox also is a partner in the Cox Fitzgerald law firm specializing in family law. His law partner, Charles Fitzgerald, is running for the seat currently held by 15th Judicial District Judge Susan Theall.
On Monday, a motion was filed in city court by attorney Barry Sallinger calling for Cox’s recusal on all of his pending cases. Sallinger alleges that the judge has crossed the boundary of impartiality by campaigning for his law partner.
In a letter attached to Monday's motion for recusal, Sallinger writes:
Sallinger, in an interview Tuesday, says he knows of at least eight attorneys and/or businessmen who were recently approached by Cox concerning his law partner’s bid for Theall’s seat. We reached out to those attorneys, but most declined to comment, saying they're friends with both Theall and Fitzgerald and preferred not getting involved.
Attorney Glenn Armentor, however, was willing to confirm Sallinger’s claim, saying, “I got a call from Judge Cox asking me to consider Fitzgerald for judge.”
|Attorney Charles Fitzgerald is planning a run against 15th Judicial District Judge Susan Theall|
|Judge Ronald Cox|
We also spoke with Cox. “I never asked anybody to back [Fitzgerald] for judge,” Cox says.
Yet, when asked about his conversation with Armentor, Cox backtracked: “I called Glenn and asked, ‘Do you know who Charlie Fitzgerald is? I’d like to introduce you to him,’ but he said he didn’t want to meet him. That’s not an 'I want you to vote for him' or me asking him for money.”
Cox says he’s looked into his possible conflict-of-interest, but feels his actions haven’t violated the state's Code of Judicial Conduct.
He may want to look a little further.
The issue of a judge’s involvement in a political campaign is spelled out in Canon 7 of the Louisiana Supreme Court’s Code of Conduct, which states that a “Judge or Judicial Candidate Shall Refrain From Inappropriate Political and Campaign Activity.”
According to Canon 7, neither a judge nor a candidate for judge is allowed to “publicly endorse or publicly oppose another candidate for public office,” “solicit funds for ... a political organization or candidate for public office,” or “personally solicit or personally accept campaign contributions.”
Read the rest of the code here.
In researching this story, we were also contacted by a local businessman who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity.
According to our source, he, too, was contacted by Cox with a request to meet Fitzgerald.
“They came and visited with me and just went on and on about Susan Theall, disparaging her, how all the attorneys hate her, how her office is running amok,” our source recalls. “[Cox] said he was supporting Charlie, trying to raise money. They didn’t ask for money directly, but he definitely inferred they were raising money and maybe passively solicited. But he is campaigning for him.”