Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Louisiana Supreme Court

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Plaintiffs filed suit against certain judges of the Fourth Judicial District Court (Louisiana) as well as a law clerk employed by that court. Essentially, plaintiffs alleged the law clerk “spoliated, concealed, removed, destroyed, shredded, withheld, and/or improperly ‘handled’ court documents” in earlier litigation involving plaintiffs, and that the judges either aided or concealed these actions. The judges and law clerk filed motions to strike certain allegations from plaintiff’s petition and also filed exceptions of no cause of action. The district court granted the motions to strike and granted the exceptions of no cause of action. On appeal, a divided en banc panel of the court of appeal reversed the motions to strike in part. The court also reversed the granting of the exception of no cause of action as to the law clerk, but affirmed the granting of the exception of no cause of action as to the judges, finding they were entitled to absolute judicial immunity. Considering the "highly unusual and specific facts" of this case, the Louisiana Supreme Court concluded the court of appeal erred in finding the judges were entitled to absolute judicial immunity. Accepting the facts as alleged in the petition as true for purposes of the exception of no cause of action, the Supreme Court found plaintiff’s allegations regarding the judges’ supervision and investigation of the law clerk’s activities arose in the context of the judges’ administrative functions, rather than in the course of their judicial or adjudicative capacities. Therefore, accepting on the well-pleaded allegations of plaintiff’s petition, the Supreme Court found absolute judicial immunity would not apply, and plaintiff was able to state a cause of action against the judges. View "Palowsky v. Campbell et al." on Justia Law

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This disciplinary proceeding was instituted by the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana (“Commission”) against respondent, Justice of the Peace Jeff Sachse, Ward 1, Livingston Parish. The matter arose out of an anonymous complaint lodged against respondent in April 2013, alleging that he was arrested on several occasions for domestic abuse and simple battery of his now ex-wife, Lisa Rabalais. The Commission alleged that respondent’s conduct violated Canons 1 and 2A of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Respondent was not a lawyer, and was elected to office in 1996. In August 2012, Ms. Rabalais moved out of the matrimonial home. While packing her belongings into the car, the police were summoned to the home in response to complaints by Ms. Rabalais that respondent had grabbed her by the shirt to prevent her from leaving. Ms. Rabalais filed a Petition for Protection from Domestic Abuse citing the August 10th incident. She also alleged that respondent repeatedly contacted her after the incident “by phone[,] email and 3rd parties to get [her] to talk to him” and that he also made “threats” through her places of employment “trying to find [her] to talk.” The Louisiana Supreme Court found respondent violated the aforementioned Canons as alleged by the Commission, and suspended respondent without pay for six months, and ordered him to reimburse and pay to the Commission $3,040.02 in costs. View "In re: Justice of the Peace Jeff Sachse, Ward 1, Livingston Parish" on Justia Law

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This disciplinary proceeding was instituted by the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana (“Commission”) against respondent, Justice of the Peace Jeff Sachse, Ward 1, Livingston Parish. The matter arose out of an anonymous complaint lodged against respondent in April 2013, alleging that he was arrested on several occasions for domestic abuse and simple battery of his now ex-wife, Lisa Rabalais. The Commission alleged that respondent’s conduct violated Canons 1 and 2A of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Respondent was not a lawyer, and was elected to office in 1996. In August 2012, Ms. Rabalais moved out of the matrimonial home. While packing her belongings into the car, the police were summoned to the home in response to complaints by Ms. Rabalais that respondent had grabbed her by the shirt to prevent her from leaving. Ms. Rabalais filed a Petition for Protection from Domestic Abuse citing the August 10th incident. She also alleged that respondent repeatedly contacted her after the incident “by phone[,] email and 3rd parties to get [her] to talk to him” and that he also made “threats” through her places of employment “trying to find [her] to talk.” The Louisiana Supreme Court found respondent violated the aforementioned Canons as alleged by the Commission, and suspended respondent without pay for six months, and ordered him to reimburse and pay to the Commission $3,040.02 in costs. View "In re: Justice of the Peace Jeff Sachse, Ward 1, Livingston Parish" on Justia Law

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This matter arose from a recommendation of the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana (“Commission”) that Judge Darryl Derbigny be publicly censured, ordered to reimburse the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judicial Expense Fund (“JEF”) $57,359.96, and ordered to reimburse and pay to the Commission $8,150.24 in hard costs. The recommendation stems from Judge Derbigny’s participation in the district court’s supplemental insurance program and charges that he accepted insurance coverage and benefits beyond those allowed by law or available to all other court employees, the premiums for which were paid from the JEF. The Supreme Court concluded the Office of Special Counsel (“OSC”) failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that Judge Derbigny’s participation in the district court’s supplemental insurance program rose to the level of sanctionable misconduct under either the Code of Judicial Conduct or Article V, Section 25(C) of the Louisiana Constitution. However, the Court agreed with the Commission that Judge Derbigny was not entitled to the benefits of any whole life insurance policies or the Exec-U-Care program under the plain language of La. R.S. 13:691. Because Judge Derbigny already surrendered the cash value of the whole life policies to the JEF, the Court ordered him to reimburse the JEF $10,002.58, representing the out-of-pocket reimbursements paid to Judge Derbigny under the Exec-U-Care program. The Court declined to impose Judge Derbigny with hard costs incurred by the Commission. View "In re: Judge Darryl Derbigny" on Justia Law

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The Judiciary Commission of Louisiana (“Commission”) brought a formal charge against Judge J. Robin Free of the 18th Judicial District Court for the Parishes of Iberville, Pointe Coupee and West Baton Rouge. The charge alleged Judge Free violated the Code of Judicial Conduct and the Louisiana Constitution, Article V, sec. 25(C), in that he interrupted a private meeting between the family members of the victims and members of the District Attorney’s Office, following a hearing in a criminal case before him, and made an inappropriate comment; abused his contempt authority and failed to follow the proper procedures for the punishment of contempt in two cases; and made inappropriate comments in seven criminal cases and exhibited a lack of proper decorum, demeanor, and temperament. After reviewing the recommendation of the Commission and the record, the Louisiana Supreme Court accepted the recommendation of the Commission that Judge Free be suspended without pay for one year and ordered to reimburse the Commission for the costs associated with these proceedings. View "In re Judge J. Robin Free, Eighteenth Judicial Dist. Ct., Parishes of West Baton Rouge, Iberville & Pointe Coupee" on Justia Law

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The Judiciary Commission of Louisiana recommended that James J. Best, a judge for the Eighteenth Judicial District, Parishes of Iberville, Pointe Coupee, and West Baton Rouge, be disciplined. The Commission alleged Judge Best committed misconduct and should be suspended for thirty days and ordered to reimburse the costs incurred in the Commission’s investigation and prosecution of this case. Judge Best did not contest the recommendation and, along with the Commission, filed a joint motion urging the Supreme Court to accept and implement the recommendation as a consent discipline. The Supreme Court rejected the joint motion and docketed the case for a full evaluation of the record. After a thorough review of the facts and law in this matter, the Supreme Court found that a fifteen-day suspension, without pay, and reimbursement of costs to be an appropriate sanction. View "In re: Judge James Best, Eighteenth Jud. Dist. Court of Iberville, Pointe Coupee & West Baton Rouge Parishes" on Justia Law

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The Judiciary Commission of Louisiana recommended that respondent, Justice of the Peace J. Roosevelt Gremillion, District Seven, Parish of Pointe Coupee, be removed from office and ordered to reimburse to the Judiciary Commission and the Office of Special Counsel the costs incurred in the investigation and prosecution of this case. After conducting an investigation, the Commission filed a formal charge against Justice of the Peace Gremillion alleging that he violated Canons 1, 2A, 2B, 3A(1), 3A(4), and 3A(7) of the Code of Judicial Conduct and engaged in willful misconduct relating to his official duty and persistent and public conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute. Specifically, the charge alleged that Justice of the Peace Gremillion rendered a judgment without giving the defendants a meaningful opportunity to be heard, without requiring the plaintiff to present any evidence or sworn testimony, and without giving the defendants written notice of the judgment against them; displayed bias or prejudice throughout the proceedings in favor of the creditor and/or against the defendants’ efforts to defend the claim against them; notarized power of attorney forms when the purported affiants did not appear before him, swear out an oath, or sign the forms in his presence; and used a notary stamp that gave the incorrect impression he was an attorney. After a thorough review of the facts and law in this matter, including the stipulations of material facts and conclusions of law entered into by the respondent and the Office of Special Counsel, the Louisiana Supreme Court found clear and convincing evidence sufficient to support the charge. The Court agreed with the Judiciary Commission's recommendation of discipline that Justice of the Peace Gremillion be removed from office and ordered to reimburse and pay to the Commission the amount of $1,547.43. View "In re: Justice of the Peace J. Roosevelt Gremillion, Dist. Seven, Parish of Pointe Coupee" on Justia Law

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The Judiciary Commission of Louisiana recommended that Justice of the Peace Stacie Myers, Pointe Coupee Parish District 4 be removed from office. This recommendation stemmed from the justice of the peace failing to comply with a Supreme Court order to pay a civil penalty for violation of the financial reporting requirements imposed by law, and totally disregarding the actions and legal proceedings connected therewith. The Supreme Court found the record established by clear and convincing evidence that the conduct of the justice of the peace, which was willful and deliberate, violated Canons 1 and 2(A) of the Code of Judicial Conduct, as well as the constitutional standard in La. Const. art. V, sec. 25(C). The Court ordered that she be removed from office, her office be declared vacant, and she be ordered to reimburse and pay the Commission $288 in costs incurred in the investigation and prosecution of this case in addition to any costs and penalties previously imposed. View "In re: Justice of the Peace Stacie P. Myers, Pointe Coupee Paris, District 4" on Justia Law

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This matter comes before the Louisiana Supreme Court on the recommendation of the Judiciary Commission that respondent, Justice of the Peace Leroy J. Laiche, Jr., Second Justice of the Peace Court, Parish of Ascension, State of Louisiana, be removed from office and be ordered to reimburse the Commission the costs incurred in the investigation and prosecution of this matter. The Court agreed with the Commission's findings that respondent failed to timely refund bond money and inadvertently held bond money in excess of that permitted by law. Furthermore, the Court found the record demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence that respondent issued peace bond judgments without a hearing or giving the defendants a meaningful opportunity to be heard on five occasions. The Commission determined that respondent violated Canons 1, 2A, 2B, 3A(1), 3A(3), 3A(4), 3A(7), 3B(1) and 3B(2) of the Code of Judicial Conduct, and concluded that Justice of the Peace Laiche’s misconduct constituted egregious legal errors sufficient to rise to the level of judicial misconduct for which a judge should be removed from office under Article V, Section 25(C) of the Louisiana Constitution. After thoroughly reviewing the record, The Supreme Court adopted its recommendation of discipline. View "In re: Justice of the Peace Leroy J. Laiche, Jr." on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs prevailed in their action under the Americans with Disabilities Act and sought attorney's fees, costs, and expenses. The district court rendered a fee award, but reduced the requested number of billable hours by 20%, set an hourly rate, and declined to enhance the overall award. The plaintiffs and the defendants both appealed. The court of appeal amended the award for purposes of the lodestar calculation to increase the number of billable hours to the amount requested and the prevailing hourly rate to $265. The court of appeal further enhanced the fee award, finding the case to be "rare" and "exceptional" based upon the results achieved and the protracted and highly-contested litigation. Upon review, the Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion in the district court’s fee award. The Court therefore reversed the ruling of the court of appeal and reinstated the judgment of the district court. View "Covington v. McNeese State University" on Justia Law