06 February 2007

la crooked judge watch in re: john b. whitaker

louisiana's old boy network in action...
an opinion handed down on friday 02 february 2007 (clink link for 15 page .pdf) louisiana's supreme court gives us a glimpse into the true and seamy side of louisiana "justice."

the first count of the charges is based on an incident that happened in late 1997 in which judge whitaker sent a letter "in support of a disbarred lawyer who was applying for readmission to the practice of law." on "official court stationary" to, of all people, the chief disciplinary counsel. according to the supremes "such conduct is a violation of canon 2B (a judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interest of the judge or others) of the code of judicial conduct." this would seem rather nit-picky until you stop and consider that judge whitaker testified that he didnt know that the rules had been changed to prohibit letters from judges to the office of disciplinary board. hello you're a judge we expect our judges to know all the laws, rules and regulations; especially those that govern their professional conduct.

count two is a little bit more serious when you consider that the judge was ordering around the natchitoches parish sheriff's department -- apparently the natchitoches parish sheriff doesnt even know what his own authority is. go figure.

Count II
During a sworn statement taken by the Judiciary Commission’s Office of Special Counsel in February 1999, respondent admitted that while he was a judge he frequently issued orders and directives, both verbal and written, instructing the Natchitoches Parish Sheriff’s Office to perform actions when there were no cases pending, no motions or rules filed, and no hearings set.1 Such conduct is a violation of Canons 1 (a judge shall uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary), 2 (a judge shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities), and 3 (a judge shall perform the duties of office impartially and diligently) of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
so the judge sent his letter on court stationary in late 1997 and admitted in february 1999, (in count two) of wrong doing (nine specifications between 1987 and 1996 but said he had “probably done this five hundred times in eighteen and a half years” on the bench.) and the office of disciplinary counsel didnt even file charges until 2005. wow. what took so long? at this rate the twenty plus ogden middleton / gold weems victims net [website] can expect some action on their case around 2010 or so.

In 2005, the ODC filed two counts of formal charges against respondent, alleging that his conduct constituted a violation of Rule 8.4(d) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice) of the Rules of Professional Conduct, as well as the relevant canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Respondent filed an answer to the formal charges and admitted that he wrote a letter of recommendation on his official court stationery; however, he said that he
this wasnt the first time judge whitaker had been in trouble either:
In 1985, respondent was suspended from judicial office for one year for smoking marijuana on two occasions after becoming a judge and for associating with prostitutes, users and sellers of illegal drugs, and an individual against whom felony criminal charges were pending. In re: Whitaker, 463 So. 2d 1291 (La. 1985).
perhaps most interesting in this case is the supreme court's citing of several other incidents of judges behaving badly:
In re: Fuselier, 02-1661 (La. 1/28/03), 837 So. 2d 1257, an Oakdale City Court judge engaged in a pattern and practice of legal error in not following the law. Judge Fuselier held a witness in contempt for failing to appear in court pursuant to a subpoena, even though the witness had not been properly subpoenaed. He also wrote to the witness’ employer to complain, leading to the termination of her employment. Judge Fuselier abused his judicial authority by conducting arraignments and accepting guilty pleas in criminal cases when no prosecutor was present. He also engaged in ex parte communications by accepting requests to “fix” traffic tickets and/or other offenses by having a court employee contact the District Attorney or City Attorney to relay the messages. In addition, Judge Fuselier instituted an improper procedure for collecting worthless checks whereby merchants would simply deliver NSF checks to a court employee who would prepare demand letters on court stationery. If the maker of the check failed to pay the amount of the dishonored check plus collection fees, the clerk would prepare an arrest warrant and prepare a probable cause affidavit on behalf of the merchant, using a facsimile signature stamp, without the merchant ever having to review the affidavit or attest to the facts stated therein. Arrests were made as a result of the issuance of these warrants. Considering the numerous prior complaints that Judge Fuselier had exceeded his role as a neutral arbiter, and also considering that he had not used his position for personal financial gain, we accepted the Judiciary Commission’s recommendation of a 120-day suspension.

In In re: Landry, 01-0657 (La. 6/29/01), 789 So. 2d 1271, a justice of the peace improperly entered a default judgment in the amount of $1,800 against a small claims defendant who had never been properly served, without the plaintiff establishing a prima facie case, and without a hearing. Six prior complaints had been filed against Justice of the Peace Landry. Considering his intentional disregard of lawful procedure which struck at the core of a defendant’s fundamental right to be heard, along with his prior disciplinary complaints, we accepted the Judiciary Commission’s recommendation of a six-month suspension.

The ODC cites In re: Jefferson, 99-1313 (La. 1/19/00), 753 So. 2d 181, in support of its argument that respondent should be disbarred. Judge Jefferson, a Monroe City Court judge, was removed from the bench for his reckless and bad faith handling of contempt proceedings, unauthorized practice of law, and failure to cooperate with an appointed supernumerary judge. On two occasions, Judge Jefferson improperly held a city prosecutor in contempt, resulting in the prosecutor’s detention. He improperly banned the prosecutor from his courtroom, then dismissed the charges in forty-one cases assigned to that prosecutor when the prosecutor did not appear in court. He also abused his authority in interrogating the Clerk of Court regarding paychecks and other administrative matters in a belligerent and argumentative manner, holding her in contempt for failing to answer and causing her to be transported to jail and booked. Judge Jefferson also continued to represent a plaintiff in a legal matter that he had handled as an attorney prior to assuming the bench and deliberately disobeyed the orders of the supernumerary judge appointed
to handle administrative matters in his court. We noted Judge Jefferson’s persistent pattern of reckless, disrespectful, injudicious, and abusive behavior in our decision to remove him from the bench.
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