Caddo judge faces questions over political opponent’s missing campaign signs

KSLA Investigates police transparency
KSLA Investigates police transparency
Updated: Sep. 23, 2020 at 7:53 PM CDT
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SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) — For the past 25 years, Ramona Emanuel has sat on the Caddo District Court bench, where she is serving as deputy chief judge.

Running for re-election, Judge Emanuel faces questions after her opponent in the Nov. 3 election claims the judge and her brother were seen driving around Shreveport with two of his campaign signs in the back of a pickup.

“It hurts, it’s personal,” said attorney J. Antonio Florence, who launched a bid to unseat Emanuel this summer.

“My people have been out there working, walking, knocking on doors, talking to the people, placing our signs," he continued. “And we’re missing hundreds of dollars worth of signs.”

Florence said the campaign signs, valued at $5-$30 each, started to go missing about two weeks ago. He didn’t think to point fingers at any single person until this weekend, when he got a call from his campaign manager.

“She said she was out driving and saw two of my campaign signs in a blue truck with a big Ramona Emanuel campaign sign in the bed. I told her to follow the driver; and that person happened to be the brother of my opponent, Leon Emanuel.”

When the truck’s driver pulled over, Florence said, his campaign manager walked up to the truck and started recording the encounter with her cellphone.

“But it wasn’t just the brother,” said Florence. “It was also Ramona Emmanuel in that vehicle. Trying to explain why she has our signs.”

In the video, Leon Emanuel tells Angela Willis, Florence’s campaign manager, how he got the signs, saying, “When I go and tell people who he’s running against, they say we can remove them.”

Roughly 44 seconds long, the video that Florence shared with KSLA Investigates shows Judge Emanuel wearing a baseball cap, getting out of the passenger side of a vehicle and asking Willis if Florence has a campaign office, saying they planned to return the signs.

“We were, going to call you, and, um, give them to you,” the judge is heard saying on the video.

Florence told KSLA Investigates that he filed an offense report with Shreveport police Saturday. That reports narrative states that “a representative running for district judge advised his opponent was stealing his campaign signs.”

And, according to that incident report, Florence claims 17 signs valued at $600 are missing.

Franz Borghardt, a criminal defense lawyer in Baton Rouge, said stealing campaign signs is a misdemeanor crime under the letter of Louisiana law.

“So if you take a thing, with the intent to permanently deprive, it’s called theft. Now if you have consent to remove the sign, then it’s not a crime.”

On Monday, KSLA Investigates caught up with Judge Emanuel outside the Caddo Courthouse as she left work, trying to ask her about the video and if she played any role in taking two of Florence’s campaign signs out of other people’s yards.

Despite being seen in the video, Judge Emanuel refused to comment.

“I’m not able to make a comment but I will later. I’ll make a statement on it later. I hadn’t seen it, so I can’t comment.”

When asked if he expects Shreveport police to investigate, Florence said he would let the video speak for itself.

However, he added one comment on why he felt compelled to file the report.

“If we’re out here saying things need to be done the right way, that justice needs to be served equally upon all of us, I absolutely had to file a criminal complaint. I believe a crime has been committed,” Florence said.

“I had to put that in the proper hands, the Police Department, and, hopefully, the DA’s office. And now it’s up to them. It’s up to them to decide on if a crime, if a wrong was committed. Again, the video speaks for itself.”

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