Lawyers could question eight years of cases amid racist messages sent from judge's phone
NAPOLEONVILLE- Assumption Parish Sheriff Leland Falcon said racist text messages sent to his former Chief Deputy came from a phone belonging to embattled 23rd Judicial District Judge Jessie Leblanc. The messages are laced with comments that he claims are aimed at one of his African-American deputies and an African-American law clerk in Ascension Parish. Judge Jessie Leblanc's attorney Jill Craft vehemently denied that the judge sent the messages and claims the copies provided to WBRZ have been altered.
WBRZ has made an editorial decision to not directly quote the word - an offensive word beginning with an "N."
Falcon said former Chief Deputy Bruce Prejean received the messages in December of 2018 and refer to Assumption Deputy Erick Taylor as a "dirty cop, thug, and a [expletive]." The racist rant is part of a string of text messages Falcon provided to the WBRZ Investigative Unit. The sheriff also said the text messages refer to Judge Alvin Turner's law clerk, Brianne Sterling as a [expletive]."
District Attorney Ricky Babin said letters will now be going out to every single defendant who has ever appeared before Judge Jessie Leblanc beginning in 2012, when she was first sworn in, until now. The defendants and their attorneys will be notified of the racist language she allegedly used. Judge Leblanc presides over cases for things as minor as a traffic ticket all the way up to a murder charge.
Babin said he was made aware of the text messages this week.
"It's a daunting task," Babin said about having to send out letters to defendants dating back eight years. "We are still going through all the other cases in Assumption Parish."
At least 600 of Judge Leblanc's cases are already under review in Assumption Parish, after former Chief Deputy Bruce Prejean admitted to a lengthy intimate relationship with her last month. Leblanc presided over cases he was involved in during the alleged affair, so the district attorney sent notices to hundreds of people to alert them of the possible conflict.
Prejean was demoted and disciplined following the affair.
The situation came to light in December when Judge Leblanc refused to sign a warrant citing a personal relationship she had with Prejean. Leblanc denied she ever said that. Instead, she claimed she had a connection to the undercover agent in the warrant, not Prejean. A lengthy investigation ensued, and Prejean admitted to the affair. Leblanc fled to Florida when the affair was revealed, and the Supreme Court appointed temporary judges to fill in for her. She returned to the bench this month.
After news of the intimate relationship with Prejean broke, Babin and the public defender in Assumption Parish took the rare step following the affair to file a joint motion to have Judge Leblanc removed from hearing any cases in Assumption Parish. A court date on that motion has not been set.
Prejean provides the damning messages to the sheriff
Sheriff Falcon said Bruce Prejean turned the messages over to him this week when Falcon was asked by a reporter about them.
"We have again had a dialogue with Captain Prejean and he has informed us that the two copies of text messages in question were received on Captain Prejean's private cell phone and came from cell phone number 225-***-****, that phone being that of Judge Jessie Leblanc," Falcon said. "There is other supporting evidence to confirm Captain Prejean's statement of authenticity of the messages as received by him."
Falcon notified District Attorney Ricky Babin who said he had a duty to let anyone know who appeared before Judge Leblanc about her alleged language.
The messages Falcon says Prejean received in December 2018
**EDITORIAL NOTE: WBRZ has chosen not to publish the racist word. However, copies of a string of text messages provided to WBRZ-TV contained the pejorative term.**
LEBLANC'S PHONE: Goodbye
LEBLANC'S PHONE: And you don't have to pretend we are friends in front of other people. I've also learned not to be fake.
LEBLANC'S PHONE: So if someone has a question refer them to me.
LEBLANC'S PHONE: And if you feel the need to share my text messages-please share them all so they get the FULL story.
LEBLANC'S PHONE: I'm sure you are with thug ni**** Erick. He is such a good friend.
LEBLANC'S PHONE: I can't wait till the day he is called out for what he is. Dirty cop. Thug. Ni****.
LEBLANC'S PHONE: I guess this time ends with sour grapes too and an inability to talk. It's ok. I'll be just fine.
PREJEAN: I see how you feel. I'm still your friend.
LEBLANC'S PHONE: Friends don't call friends liars.
LEBLANC'S PHONE: I suppose we have different definitions of what a friend is.
LEBLANC'S PHONE: If Brianne makes you happy- good for you. I just feel sorry for your kids and grandkids.
LEBLANC'S PHONE: What an embarrassment
PREJEAN: I'm not seeing Brianne
LEBLANC'S PHONE: At least I was NEVER unfaithful to you with ANYONE- much less a ni****.
Racial makeup of the 23rd Judicial District
Judge Jessie Leblanc hears cases in Ascension, Assumption and St. James parishes.
According to the latest census data, about 165,000 residents make up the area that Leblanc presides over.
Ascension Parish has 120,000 residents and is 22-percent African-American. Assumption Parish has 23,000 residents and is 30-percent African-American. St. James Parish has 21,500 residents and is 50-percent African-American.
The entire Judicial District combined is approximately one-third African-American.
Fallout and Response
Legal experts told WBRZ the language used is not only shameful, but raises questions for any African-American who has ever appeared before Leblanc. They said claiming the messages are altered is a common defense tactic.
We have called the chief judge over the 23rd JDC for a comment, along with Leblanc's attorney Jill Craft. Craft declined to do an on-camera interview, but sent the following email:
"As I communicated to you by text messages, the two (2) pages you texted me are obviously altered. As I stated in my text response to you this morning, you can look at the two pages and readily see they have been altered and/or are fake. You have not seen the alleged actual phone from which the photograph of the photograph was supposedly taken, nor have you spoken to the alleged, actual recipient or verified the documents. For her part, my client adamantly denies the altered documents.
You asked whether or not I would be willing to appear on camera. I will not legitimize obviously altered documents. Publication of any information attempting to connect my client with any portion of either altered document is reckless and baseless. I am attaching below what I sent to the Advocate yesterday when whoever you are talking with attempted to shop the same, altered documents:
I have looked at the alleged text messages and they appear to have been altered. For example, if you look at both, one has screen cracks present in the lower left corner not present in the other. The type font with the alleged phone number matches exactly but the text boxes in both do not, meaning someone has deliberately manipulated the content. The alleged messages appear fake. At best, the papers (2) you sent me to review are altered copies of copies of a phone which has not and cannot be validated by anyone. Either way, the documents can, in no way, be verified by anyone. To the extent the Advocate has not spoken with either the alleged sender or the alleged recipient, we submit it is clearly inappropriate for there to be any attribution to anyone or assertion that the altered documents represent anything.
Her response is through me. The documents you sent for review appear to have been clearly altered and are not credible. Additionally, there is no date or time reference and the Advocate did not even view the alleged phone the alleged statements were contained on. The documents are inherently untrustworthy, apparently altered, and therefore denied."
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