Judicial candidate who faces criminal charges is suspended from practicing law
Originally Published: Oct 8, 2020
SHREVEPORT, La. — Shreveport lawyer and judicial candidate Trina Chu has been suspended from the practice of law in the wake of criminal charges that, as a law clerk for an appeals court judge, she hacked into computer files containing confidential drafts of an opinion being written in a case involving a friend then sent some of the information to her friend.
Wednesday’s action by the Louisiana Supreme Court comes less than a month before the election for a seat on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal in Shreveport. Chu is challenging incumbent Judge Jeanette Garrett in the Nov. 3 election.
The Supreme Court placed Chu on immediate interim suspension following a petition by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which investigates complaints against attorneys. The Supreme Court did not outline its reasons for suspending Chu now.
Chu has not yet entered a formal plea in the case but her lawyer, who has asked that her arraignment be postponed until after the election, has called the arrest “political shenanigans” designed in part to influence the election. The computer trespass law that is the basis for one of the charges was enacted in 2019, attorney Charlotte Bordenave said, and state law does not apply retroactively.
Chu, 46, of Shreveport, was arrested by Caddo Parish sheriff’s deputies in August on a warrant charging her with committing an offense against intellectual property and trespassing against state computers.
Chu was a law clerk for Judge Henry Brown, then-chief judge of the Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal in Shreveport, at the time of her alleged actions. The case Chu is accused of improperly accessing involved a close friend of hers, who had been in a long-term relationship with Brown. The judge had recused himself from hearing the case and Chu had no reason to look at the case, investigators said.
The alleged hacking occurred in July 2018. Brown’s secretary had checked a copy machine and saw that someone had tried to print confidential information such as memos and drafts of the pending opinion involving Chu’s friend. The copy machine had shut down when it ran out of toner.
Judge Brown’s colleagues on the court fired Chu and filed a complaint with the Sheriff’s Office, which began investigating.
The chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court ordered Brown to stay away from the 2nd Circuit courthouse after a fellow judge who was considering the appeal filed a complaint Brown was trying to intimidate him, court documents reviewed by KTBS News say. Brown, who has denied any improper behavior and has not been accused of involvement in the alleged hacking, retired shortly after that.
The judges whose draft opinions were hacked upheld the lower court verdict against Chu’s friend.
Authorities acknowledged Chu’s arrest came as she was running for a judgeship but said the investigation started long before she filed to run. An arrest was delayed by office shutdowns due to coronavirus and a review of the case by the state attorney general’s office, said Caddo District Attorney James Stewart, whose office will prosecute Chu.
The appeals court case involves Hanh Williams, who was accused of breaching her fiduciary duty as the trustee and executrix of a man’s trust and estate. Williams, a financial planner, over time had become involved in all of that man’s financial affairs, court records show.
A Caddo District Court civil jury in November 2016 awarded $1.5 million in damages to the estate of the man, Fred Houston of Shreveport. Allegations in the lawsuit questioned some billings and expenses to Houston and then to his estate after he died.
Williams said she was a good steward of Houston’s money and defended the charges as appropriate. She appealed the verdict to the Second Circuit Court of Appeal.
Authorities said Chu emailed some of the documents in the pending appeals court opinion to Williams and also provided her legal advice on how to proceed in the case. They said Chu told a detective she was only interested in her friend’s case and had no malicious intent when she accessed the file.
Senior US District Federal Judge Kenneth ‘Ken’ Marra and the Lyin’ Lawyers from https://t.co/T7RLHkNQUz conspired to deny intervention and withheld evidence from the elder Burkes. Every citizen should stand up or your liberties and property will be taken. https://t.co/zgSYSSU69r pic.twitter.com/NxUzXV9LTj
— LawsInTexas (@lawsintexasusa) September 30, 2020