What was at first a bit of a head scratcher around Shreveport judicial circles has become much clearer as a politicization of a judicial contest.
Last week, the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office arrested Trina Chu, currently a candidate in the westernmost district of the state’s Court of Appeals, Second Circuit. Each district has three sections that open up periodically over a decade, and as a no party candidate she challenges longtime no party incumbent Jeannette Garrett for one of those.
Chu used to work for the Second Circuit, a few years back, for former Chief Justice Henry Brown. He left the Court in a hurry one step ahead of censure by the state’s Judiciary Commission for alleged attempted influence of another judge concerning a case in front of the Court about a woman with whom he was very friendly. That attempt supposedly involved material that Chu, also a friend of the woman, had obtained and transmitted illegally.
One count, which would have applied retroactively, seems inevitably to be dropped. The other, an offense against intellectual property, is a felony. Formal charging by the Caddo District Attorney may occur into December, a month after the election.
That an investigation into Chu concluded over a year ago ended without action against her, the arrest for a retroactive crime, and that the arrest could come before the election but the charge after, all have led Chu’s lawyer to claim the arrests arose from purely political motives, presumably to sabotage her election chances. But not only does this assertion strain credulity, it deflects from the possibility that Chu chose to run for this particular seat precisely as a means of defending herself.
For one thing, any “conspiracy” would have to be very far-reaching and comprehensive. A major reason why it took so long for the decision to arrest to receive the go-ahead was the state attorney general’s office reviewed the case. As well, the disruption prompting the closure of many governmental offices because of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic slowed things down so it came after qualification for the office in late July.
Further, the arrest appears to have occurred with the cooperation of both Republican Sheriff Steve Prator and Democrat District Attorney James Stewart, who formerly sat on the Court. It’s hard to imagine a bipartisan, statewide ganging up against an obscure immigration lawyer who twice has lost lower-level election contests, all to protect the job of an incumbent no party judge who Stewart knew from his service on the Court.
When Chu announced for the office, it did seem puzzling. Running as a Democrat in 2014 for a district judgeship and in 2016 for a Juvenile Court slot, she wasn’t competitive. Filing her campaign finance report days after her current qualifying, it shows just a loan from herself to pay the qualification fee. She seemed to have little seriousness in her ability to win.
But that may not have been her primary motivation for running for this particular post. By qualifying, she could allege it looked like a political prosecution as a means of defending herself from any forthcoming charge. And any conviction could be appealed to the Second Circuit, where she could add her attempted election to her serving on staff there as a reason to disqualify all nine judges from hearing that case, tossing it to another circuit in the hope of receiving a more sympathetic hearing.
That seems a much more plausible explanation for her running than her running so threatened an extended political alliance whose very existence seems highly improbable that it would trigger a charge. In any event, the extremely long-shot chance that Chu had to win essentially has evaporated.