Sheriff: Affair between judge, investigator leads to review of hundreds of court cases
NAPOLEONVILLE- An ad hoc judge has been appointed to hear cases for a judge at the center of an investigation over the judge's relationship with a criminal investigator.
The review involves Judge Jessie Leblanc and allegations of a long-term affair with Assumption Parish Chief Criminal Deputy Bruce Prejean. Prejean admitted the relationship when questioned by the sheriff, WBRZ has reported in a series of stories on channel two.
The state supreme court named retired judge Jerome Barbera as the ad hoc to hear Leblanc's cases Friday in Donaldsonville. Leblanc's office said it’s uncertain if she will return next week.
Nearly 600 of Leblanc's cases are being reviewed after reports of the affair between the Leblanc and Prejean. Leblanc oversaw criminal proceedings involving Prejean's cases.
The situation was the focus of a WBRZ report in December highlighting concerns over a then-unrevealed personal relationship between the man and woman.
Leblanc is a judge in the 23rd Judicial District, which covers Ascension, Assumption and St. James parishes. Only cases in Assumption Parish are part of the review.
The new revelations come after the December report on Channel 2 about an internal investigation launched by the Assumption Parish Sheriff. The review followed Leblanc refusing to sign a warrant citing a personal relationship with Prejean.
The sheriff said the relationship between the judge and the deputy was brought front and center during the inquiry.
"Chief Deputy Bruce Prejean disclosed that the personal relationship began while LeBlanc was a hearing officer and evolved into an intimate relationship after she became judge and lasted for a lengthy period into her judgeship," Falcon said. "I have disclosed all of these facts to all agencies involved."
Leblanc has been on the bench since 2012.
Judge Leblanc told WBRZ Tuesday, Prejean was being dishonest and added it was not appropriate or ethical for her to talk about the situation further.
LSU Law Professor Ken Levy said the allegations create a mess for criminal cases before Leblanc’s court and are a violation of judicial rules.
"You should not have an intimate relationship with anyone that comes before you in court," Levy said.
"We want our judges to be totally impartial and operate with integrity," Levy said. "The appearance of integrity and that went right out the window."
A tedious amount of work may now need to be done to correct possible wrongs, he said.
"Both of them jeopardized so many cases which is going to create a huge administrative mess," Levy said. "It may have been very unfair to many defendants, and the public loses confidence in the judicial system when this happens."
Levy said if a review by the Judiciary Commission warrants action, Judge Leblanc could face censure or be removed from the bench.
Likening the situation to a concern involving members of a jury, Levy gave an example of jurors being removed from cases if they have a connection to someone involved in a trial.
"If a juror would be immediately dismissed, a judge even more so,” he said. “[A judge] is held to the highest standard in society [and] should immediately recuse themselves” from cases where they have a connection,” Levy said.
Sheriff Falcon said Prejean, the chief deputy, will face discipline but did not disclose the punishment.
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