DA reviewing past cases after judge discloses relationship with deputy
NAPOLEONVILLE- Dozens of criminal cases could be affected after a possible conflict was revealed the week before Christmas. Judge Jessie Leblanc declined to sign a warrant because she had a personal relationship with Assumption Sheriff's Office Chief Criminal Deputy Bruce Prejean, according to District Attorney Ricky Babin.
Babin said he was made aware of the issue when Assumption Parish Sheriff Leland Falcon told him about what happened during a conversation Falcon had with Judge Leblanc.
"As obligated by law, I immediately conferred with Twenty-Third Judicial District Attorney Ricky Babin and accurately and thoroughly advised him of Judge Leblanc's disclosure," Falcon said.
It is unclear what the nature of the "personal relationship" is, but District Attorney Babin said out of an abundance of caution he sent out notices to all defendants with pending cases where Judge Leblanc was presiding over matters that involved Prejean.
"We are starting with the active cases, then we have to go back and go to cases that have already had a conviction and things of that sort," Babin said.
In the letter that was sent one week ago, Babin states, "Judge Leblanc has never disclosed to anyone in our office or to a defense attorney in our presence of any personal relationship with Deputy Bruce Prejean and has never recused herself from any other matter involving the Assumption Parish Sheriff's Office since she was first sworn in as Judge in Section D."
Babin said it's not his job to determine whether a conflict exists, but he said it is his job to inform defendants and their attorneys of that information. So far, 20 letters have been sent out to defendants with active cases. Now, his office is going through the adjudicated cases that could reach the hundreds depending on how long this "personal relationship" has gone on.
Leblanc has been on the bench serving Ascension, Assumption, and St. James parishes since 2012.
The WBRZ Investigative Unit requested a statement from Judge Jessie Leblanc Monday morning.
The statement reads:
In November 2019, I was presented with an arrest warrant from the Assumption Parish Sheriff’s Office which identified by name an undercover agent who made a narcotics purchase. The agent is a close relative of APSO Chief Deputy Bruce Prejean. I do not ever recall seeing an arrest warrant where an undercover officer was identified by name.
After reading the name of the undercover officer, I asked the detective to present the warrant to another judge for consideration. Subsequently, I was contacted by Sheriff Leland Falcon inquiring about why the warrant needed to be referred to another judge. I explained to Sheriff Falcon that I voluntarily recused myself from signing the warrant because I have known this particular agent since before his career in law enforcement ever began. Moreover, I provided a recommendation and character reference for the undercover agent when he was applying for employment outside the field of law enforcement. Because my recommendation for employment was clearly an opinion regarding his credibility and character, I voluntarily recused myself in this matter and recommended that the warrant be submitted to another judge for consideration.
On December 27, 2019, I learned of the existence of a letter disseminated by District Attorney Ricky Babin to various defendants and their attorneys. At no time have I been provided with a copy of this correspondence by the District Attorney, nor was I notified by him of the letter’s existence. It has come to my attention that District Attorney Babin’s letter alleges that my recusal on the November arrest warrant was based on a personal relationship with APSO Chief Deputy Bruce Prejean. I felt it necessary to clarify that my recusal in this matter stems from the fact that my prior employment recommendation for the undercover agent would be a conflict at future stages of the proceedings. Additionally, I felt it would be prudent to have another judge consider the warrant due to my concern regarding the unusual circumstance of identifying an undercover officer by name.