Jennifer Medley defeated incumbent Civil District Court Division F Judge Chris Bruno Tuesday night following a contentious election that was overshadowed by a feud between Bruno and local entrepreneur Sidney Torres. Medley won 53 percent of about 156,000 votes cast in the race.
Other Civil District Court incumbents running on Tuesday night were able to retain their seats. In Division E, Judge Omar Mason won over Dianne Alexander 52 percent to 48 percent. Division G Judge Robin Giarrusso won over Schalyece Harrison 65 percent to 35 percent. And Domestic Section 1 Judge Bernadette D’Souza won over Lakeisha Jefferson 53 percent to 47 percent. In Division I, an open seat formerly held by Judge Piper Griffin, Lori Jupiter led with 47 percent of the vote, not enough to win outright. She will advance to the December runoff against Michael J. Hall.
Griffin, who left the seat to run for the Louisiana Supreme Court, will advance to the runoff against Terri Love.
In the Division F race, Torres threw his weight behind Medley, an attorney who has served as an ad hoc judge in Juvenile Court. Early on, Bruno’s campaign accused Medley of being a pawn in Torres’ quest for revenge. An article from The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate in October reported that donations from businesses owned by Torres and his business associates, plus a donation from Torres’ mother, made up the majority of Medley’s campaign contributions for the period covered in the report, at $36,000. Torres has also gotten his political action committee, Voice of the People PAC, involved in the race, running attack ads against Bruno.
The race got messier when Medley, using Torres’ production company SDT Productions, tried to air an ad during a September Saints game that accused Bruno of being “deadbeat dad” who fought for years in court to avoid paying child support. Bruno denied the claims in the article and was able to stop the ad from airing by getting a last minute temporary restraining order in Civil District Court — the same court in which Bruno serves as a judge.
Joseph Bruno, Chris Bruno’s brother and part of the reelection campaign, told The Lens in October that Torres’ motivation was “strictly hateful.” Torres, meanwhile, questioned how Bruno was able to get a restraining order in less than half an hour.
“He’s got a history of using the court system to get what he wants,” Torres told The Lens in October. “He got a [temporary restraining order] in 29 minutes. That’s unheard of.”
Then, in October, the race got even stickier when Bruno’s campaign accused Medley’s campaign of conspiring with Torres to circumvent campaign contribution limits. An investment company owned by Torres, IV Capital, gave Medley a personal loan of $100,000 in September. The same day, Medley made a personal loan to her own campaign of $85,000. A week later, she donated another $15,000 to her campaign.
Candidates are allowed to contribute or loan however much they want to their own campaign, while Torres and his company are both subject to caps. The Bruno campaign hired a law firm run by a former attorney for the Louisiana Board of Ethics to investigate. The firm produced a report alleging that Torres and Medley’s campaign had violated campaign finance disclosure laws.
Both Medley and Torres pushed back on that accusation, saying what they did was perfectly legal. They argued that Bruno had been able to use his position as Civil Court Judge, as well as his family’s law firm Bruno & Bruno, to secure financial support. In response to questions about whether he was playing an outsized role in the election, Torres said that it was necessary to beat an incumbent with such ingrained financial support from attorney’s that have to try cases in his court.
Charles Maldonado contributed to this report.