Judge who sent racist text messages resigns
UPDATE: An attorney representing Judge Jessie Leblanc coinfirmed she submitted her resignation Thursday.
BATON ROUGE - Governor John Bel Edwards has joined the litany of activists and public officials calling on Judge Jessie Leblanc to resign over a slew of racist text messages sent to a deputy with whom she was having an affair.
On Wednesday, the governor's office released a statement saying Leblanc is "compromised" in her role as a judge in wake of WBRZ reports that first published the messages featuring racial slurs.
“The admitted and repeated use of racial slurs by a judge who has taken an oath to administer justice fairly and impartially is wrong, period. There is never any circumstance or context in which such derogatory and degrading language is okay," the governor's statement read. "Sadly, inequities still exist in society and in our judicial system. Judge LeBlanc has compromised her ability to preside as a judge, and she has damaged the judiciary. She should resign. The people of the 23rd Judicial District and our state deserve better.”
Within a few minutes, the judge's attorney, Jill Craft, fired back in response to the governor:
"Judge LeBlanc has made her position and contrition clear. Her statements were made in a private conversation and in response to a clearly threatening situation. If that is now the litmus test for any public official, then every one of our public officials should be immediately held to the same standard, including private statements about race, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, sex, religion."
"This means all public officials should be immediately required to disclose all of their private communications, including by text, email or otherwise. Judge LeBlanc is a well respected Judge and the public is urged to look at every case she has ever handled, how she runs her Court, and how she does her job."
"There has never even been a hint of bias. Judge LeBlanc is a member of the judicial branch. With all due respect, the Governor is part of the executive branch and his attention should be directed there."
Governor Edwards' statement comes a day after retired 19th Judicial District Court Judge Luke LaVergne, who presided over family court matters for 18 years, told the Investigative Unit Leblanc should tender her resignation.
Leblanc admitted over the weekend to sending racist text messages first published by the WBRZ Investigative Unit last week. In addition to sending the racist messages, Leblanc also admitted to a lengthy affair with Assumption Parish Deputy Bruce Prejean. It's an affair she denied for the past two months.
"I couldn't believe that a judge was saying this," LaVergne said after reading the messages. "If a judge is saying this, something is really off the mark here. How can you sit there as a judge and render fairness, equal justice, under the law with everyone in your court after having said something like that?"
The messages WBRZ published show Leblanc referred to an African-American sheriff's deputy and a law clerk as a racial slur. LaVergne believes the apology won't be enough to save her job.
"I'm sure she is very sorry," LaVergne said. "I'm sure she is contrite in saying that. But an apology I don't believe is enough. After having said that and admitted to using those slurs, I don't see how any person of color can go into her courtroom and believe they are getting fair treatment."
LaVergne said judges are held to the highest of standards. Those standards include avoiding even the appearance of impropriety. He said Leblanc's affair with a deputy is also a big problem.
"If she had an affair with anyone else but a deputy it wouldn't make a difference," LaVergne said. "But the deputy is in the criminal justice system that brings people to her court for prosecution and investigation. That's why it could be a conflict of interest there."
With the admission of the affair and the racist messages, questions are being raised about the lies Leblanc first told denying everything.
"I'm disheartened and I'm sad that this has happened in our judiciary," LaVergne said. "As a sitting judge, I'm retired now, but while I was on the bench if I did something like that I don't think I could continue sitting on the bench after having said that about a group of people."
The NAACP is planning a demonstration next week at Judge Leblanc's office.