ASSUMPTION PARISH, La. (WAFB) - WAFB Investigative Reporter Scottie Hunter interviewed 23rd Judicial District Court Judge Jessie LeBlanc about the judge’s use of a racial slur and her extra-marital affair with a high-ranking sheriff’s deputy in that district.
Here is a verbatim of the interview:
JUDGE LEBLANC: Yes, I do admit to the affair. Approximately 2008 to 2016. It is something I’m not proud of. I’ve had to apologize to my husband. I will continue to have to apologize to my husband, my children, and my God for the rest of my life.
REPORTER: Did anyone know about the affair at any point?
JUDGE LEBLANC: Not until 2017.
REPORTER: Explain how that came out.
JUDGE LEBLANC: In 2017, I want to say it was November of 2017, one of our judges asked me to come and meet with him at his office. I’ll refer to him as Judge 2. Judge 1 had contacted him and said that he was concerned about me – that his law clerk has provided some text messages to him that Mr. Prejean had given to her. That he (Prejean) was involved in a relationship with Judge 1’s law clerk at that time. I think at that time they were concerned about my well-being and Judge 2 wanted to talk to me about it. At that time, he said, the best thing you can do right now is delete his name and number from your phone and I said, judge that was a long time ago. This ended in 2016. Why is this all now coming up in 2017? And, he said I don’t know. But at that time both of those judges were aware. Judge 1, as well as another judge on our bench and our Clerk of Court, had attended a meeting at the Supreme Court to discuss funding for the new courthouse. The other judge had told the Clerk of Court that he had seen the law clerk and Mr. Prejean together and the Clerk of Court disclosed that information to Judge 1. It was my understanding, after Judge 1 and Judge 2 spoke, a couple of days later, I went in and asked to speak to Judge 1. I told him, first of all, I wanted to thank him for his concern for me at that time. (He said) that he had spoken to his law clerk and had basically given her an ultimatum that either the relationship had to end or, if they were going to be together, he (Prejean) was going to have to divorce his wife and that he (the judge) would have to disclose these things to the people that came before him in court.
REPORTER: This has to be emotional. How has this affected your marriage, your family, your own well-being?
JUDGE LEBLANC: It’s been extremely difficult. It was terrible that my husband had to learn of it in the media, through the news. I have children. As I’ve said, I’ve got a 33-year-old that’s a little easier to explain to, one that just made 21, and the other just made 17. And with all them, I’ve had to go and admit, mom did some things that were not right.
REPORTER: How long is your current term as judge. Do you plan to run again, given all this scrutiny?
JUDGE LEBLANC: I do plan to run again. My term expires December 31st of this year.
REPORTER: How did that relationship with Prejean come to light? I know you mentioned it was a lot of that meeting when you had to go meet with one of those other judges about this. Did you come forward about the affair at all prior to that?
JUDGE LEBLANC: No. No one knew until that time, as far as I know. And things here came to light whenever – in November of 2019 – I was presented with a warrant. In that warrant, I recognized the name of Bruce’s son as being an undercover agent in a narcotics warrant. I refused to sign the warrant. I did not reject it. I simply wrote on the warrant, “please present to another judge for signature.” I was then contacted by the sheriff. Sheriff Falcon to be clear since we have three sheriffs. Sheriff Falcon contacted me and wanted to know why I would not sign the warrant. I explained to him that I knew the undercover agent personally, I knew him through his father, and that I’d had a close personal relationship with his father. And, that I just thought it was prudent for him to present it to another judge. From there, the sheriff went to our district attorney, where it is not a secret that the district attorney does not like me. I am not a person that just signs off on anything that is presented to me, whether it’s something presented to me by the DA’s office or any of the sheriff’s offices. I read it, I discern it, and I determine whether the law is applicable and whether it should be signed. And so that’s how we got to this point.
REPORTER: You mentioned this was over in 2016. This warrant came before you in 2019. Did you feel like it still warranted you coming forward?
JUDGE LEBLANC: I just felt like it was best. I guess, when in doubt err on the side of being cautious. And I felt like I should not sign it.
REPORTER: Since all of this has come to light, some have questioned your work on the bench in Assumption Parish. Do you feel like those people who have come before you deserve new trials?
JUDGE LEBLANC: No, I do not. I believe wholeheartedly, while I have made a poor decision in having an affair and in discussing some of the other things I know we’re going to talk about, I know in my heart that I have done my job to the very best of my ability. I know that there is extreme confidence in me amongst the Bar, amongst the people that appear before me. I have always been referred to as, she’s at least going to let my attorney make an objection and argue for me. I may not win, but at least they’re allowed to do their job. And, never once did this interfere with my job. I never signed a warrant for Mr. Prejean. He never testified before me in his capacity as a sheriff’s deputy and I don’t believe any of this would warrant any new trials in Assumption Parish.
REPORTER: Those racist texts that have been made public – just looking at those – do you deny sending those?
JUDGE LEBLANC: I admit that I used that word. I profusely apologize for that. I should have never said it. It was uncalled for. I was angry. I was upset. But, it’s no excuse. Back in 2017, whenever I had spoken with the judges, this law clerk had given him some of my text messages to her judge who, in turn, gave them to another judge. I began receiving - after that - I had some anonymous messages that were sent to me. Then on my door – my office is in Napoleonville – on my door I received a note with a reference with the “n-word” on it. And, then in December 2018, I went to the Gonzales office to pick up a check, a per diem check, lease check, whatever it may have been. I went to the office to pick up the check and, as is often the case at Christmastime, attorneys send packages – gifts – to the judges. There was a package that was wrapped as though it was a gift to me. I opened that package and, in that package, there were phone records of Bruce Prejean. There were things highlighted on those records including this law clerk’s phone number. I was scared. I was anxious about it. And I reached out to him (Prejean) because I felt like the only person who could have this information would be somebody that was related to him. From there, I did lash out at him. And, in lashing out at him, in those text messages, I lashed out at two of his African American friends. One of them being that law clerk. I did call them that name. They do not deserve that. They deserve an apology from me. And, I sincerely apologize to both of them for using that word. While I may have been upset, angry, scared, it does not excuse my actions. I also recognize that the NAACP is very upset with me over this, over my action. And I would like to meet with them. I invite them to meet with me at any time. I would like to sit down and talk about everything fully as opposed to bits and pieces they are being fed through the media.
REPORTER: Just to be clear, looking at the context of those messages that were made public, you wrote those specific things in those messages?
JUDGE LEBLANC: I did use that word several times. What I am concerned about is that some of those messages were not in their entirety. Some of those messages have been altered. So, while, yes, I admit that I said that, I want to be clear that those messages do not reflect the entirety of the conversation.
REPORTER: Are you able to provide further context?
JUDGE LEBLANC: I don’t. I don’t have that. But, in looking at the document themselves, you can see where they don’t correlate.
REPORTER: I know you mentioned the NAACP is upset about this, obviously. What do you say to others in the community who are African American that voted for you to become a judge?
JUDGE LEBLANC: Those people that know me, that voted for me, know that this is not reflective of me personally. I have many African Americans friends. Friends that I’ve taken their children on vacation with me. I’ve had friends of my son whose parents couldn’t afford various things for them who stayed with me. I paid for various fees for them. I took these people in as though they were my own and it didn’t matter whether you were red, purple, black, or white. That doesn’t matter to me. And, as a person, I know that I am not a racist. I know that I treat everyone with respect. It doesn’t matter who you are. I’ve actually had a bailiff in court on time tell me, judge how can you sit here and speak to this prisoner like you’re talking to him when they’re not talking to you the right way? And, that’s how I was raised. I was not raised to treat someone based upon the color of their skin. So, to those people, I tell them, yes, I made a horrible decision in using those slurs toward those people. I ask for forgiveness from them. I’ve asked for forgiveness from my God. And, I know that I am not a person that bases you off the color of your skin.
REPORTER: Have you used that particular racial slur in the past?
JUDGE LEBLANC: Not in a - no - not – no – not in a – no. I have not used that racial slur in the past. This was in a moment of a heated exchange that was private between Bruce and I, that I never dreamed would have come out to the public.
REPORTER: The NAACP has asked for you to step down as judge. Do you plan to do that? And, if you don’t [step down] they mentioned that there would be demonstrations. What’s your response to that?
JUDGE LEBLANC: I will not step down. Of course, their right to protest is absolutely there. But, I would much prefer to be able to sit down and speak with them one-on-one and talk about how this happened and go over it fully as opposed to just piecemeal.
REPORTER: Why should people still have confidence in you?
JUDGE LEBLANC: Based upon my actions in court. Anyone that has sat in my courtroom – you can ask any attorney that has appeared before me, you can ask the defendants that have appeared before me. You can ask family members that have appeared before me in family matters that are sitting there and see my demeanor in the courtroom and my respect in the courtroom and my respect for the law.
REPORTER: Certainly people come before you that are African American will have this in the back of their minds - that this racial slur was used by you. How do you ask them to separate that from your work?
JUDGE LEBLANC: I ask them to look and see how I treat them in court and if they feel as though they have been treated fairly.
REPORTER: Is there anything else you want to add?
JUDGE LEBLANC: I don’t think so. I just wanted the opportunity to be able to publicly apologize. First and foremost, for the racial slur that was used. And, secondly, to clear the air about the affair and to make it known that I recognize the error of my ways and I ask for forgiveness.