BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - 23rd Judicial District Court Judge Jessie LeBlanc submitted her resignation Thursday, Feb. 27, levying a slew of allegations on her way out.
Her resignation came one day after Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards called for the judge the step down for her admitted use of the “n-word.”
The Louisiana Supreme Court on Friday, Feb. 28 announced Judge Jerome J. Barbera, lll would return from retirement to serve as pro tempore for the dates of March 2 and March 5, or until the vacancy is filled.
Those who pushed hard for her removal do not call it a victory, even though they did in fact get what they wanted.
“Are we happy that somebody that used the n-word is no longer having the opportunity to preside over members of our community? Yes. But victory? No, because we shouldn’t still be fighting these issues in 2020,” said Baton Rouge NAACP chapter president, Eugene Collins.
LeBlanc also recently admitted to having an eight-year extramarital affair with Bruce Prejean, a high-ranking deputy in the Assumption Parish Sheriff’s Office.
District Attorney Ricky Babin and others have questioned whether defendants appearing in front of LeBlanc should have been made aware of her intimate relationship with Prejean.
In her resignation letter to the Louisiana Supreme Court, LeBlanc said another judge in her district, Judge Alvin Turner, was made aware in 2017 that his own law clerk allegedly had an affair with the same man.
LeBlanc is making the implication that if the affair actually happened, Turner should have done something to inform defendants in his court that one of his staff members was allegedly in a relationship with Prejean.
Turner, by phone Thursday, said LeBlanc is distorting the truth.
“My law clerk does not handle any criminal matters for me; she handles my civil matters,” Turner said. “As usual, she’s distorting the truth as to my knowledge of any affair between the law clerk and Prejean, which is par for the course for her.”
“I further understand that warrants were likewise submitted to the court, but no one is seeking recusal, reopening of cases, or public outcry of any kind,” LeBlanc said.
“Likewise, I understand it is fairly well-known Mr. Prejean has engaged in a relationship with a high-ranking official with the governor’s staff, yet, no one seems to have bothered to ferret that out. Let me be clear, I would not wish this on anyone, but I do believe that if we are to inflict punishment on one, it must be fairly apportioned across the entirety,” LeBlanc said.
Attorney Jill Craft, who represents the judge, says LeBlanc had no other choice.
“Really from her perspective, she’s got to at the end of the day, protect her kids and her husband, and when you start receiving the volume of hate mail that she has, then the only logical decision is it’s time for me to step back for now,” Craft added.
In her letter, LeBlanc pointed to a former high-profile case she presided over, seemingly as a way to prove she is not biased against African Americans in her court.
“I am proud of the work I did as a judge and challenge anyone to look at my record, any and all cases I handled,” she wrote.
“I diligently worked to administer justice fairly, blindly, and without regard to any bias. I respectfully submit that my work ethic in that regard sparked and stoked the ire of the district attorney and the sheriff. Particularly, when I found an African American LSU football player not guilty of sexual battery of a white female because the evidence did not support guilt, I was placed in a highly uncomfortable position by the district attorney who could not contain his anger toward me. As time wore on, I correctly determined the district attorney had engaged in prosecutorial misconduct, a decision of mine upheld on appeal. Again, he was incapable of containing his contempt,” LeBlanc said in the letter.
Craft says LeBlanc believes all of this is a result of the DA holding a grudge against her.
“If the district attorney wants somebody prosecuted, that doesn’t mean they’re guilty and she pointed to a very significant situation very early on in her tenure where she found somebody correctly not guilty; the evidence wasn’t there,” said Craft. “For that, doing her job, which is what’s she’s supposed to, she suffered the ire of the district attorney and it’s gotten worse since then.”
District Attorney Ricky Babin responded by saying, “I regret that she’s blaming me for her demise. I received facts that I’m required by law to make notifications on and that’s what I did. The aftermath of this will go on for years and we will do the best we can do handle issues that come up as a result of it.”
LeBlanc’s attorney also took time to call out others for the ongoing threats she says have plagued the former judge in recent days.
“Her fax machine has been jammed with essentially hate faxes to her office,” said Craft. “Because of irresponsible journalism, not y’all, her private telephone number was published, so as you can imagine, since that story was first run, her telephone has been ambushed.”
During an exclusive interview with WAFB on Sunday, Feb. 23 LeBlanc, who is white, admitted to using a racial slur against two African Americans during a string of texts with her former lover during a time when she was angry with him.
“I admit that I used that word,” LeBlanc said Feb. 23. “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."
Asked if she had ever used the slur before, the judge seemed to stumble over her own words.
“Not in a – no - not – no – not in a – no - I have not used that racial slur in the past,” the judge replied. “This was in a moment of a heated exchange that was private between Bruce and one I that I never dreamed would have come out to the public."
LeBlanc previously admitted she had an affair with a Prejean, the former chief deputy in Assumption Parish. Both were married to other people at the time of their affair.
“It is something I’m not proud of,” LeBlanc said of the eight-year affair. “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."
Assumption Parish Sheriff Leland Falcon demoted Prejean from his position as chief deputy after Prejean admitted to the affair in 2019.
In a rare move, District Attorney Babin and the district’s lead public defender earlier this year filed a motion asking that LeBlanc voluntarily remove herself from criminal matters in Assumption Parish or be forced to do so because of the affair.
LeBlanc said during the WAFB interview that she does not believe the affair is something that would warrant any new trials.
The NAACP filed a formal complaint the week of Feb. 24 with the Louisiana Supreme Court, citing WAFB’s report and calling for the judge to be removed. Leaders with the group call their action necessary and say calls for justice did not just come from them, but from the community as well.
“We just want fairness for black people and for all people and it starts with each one of us,” said Michael McClanahan.
“What this really shows is that when we work together and when we really stand as one, there’s nothing that we can’t accomplish,” Collins added.
As for what happens next, according to the Secretary of State’s Office, the Louisiana Supreme Court will now appoint an interim judge. Normally, a special election would be held, but because LeBlanc had less than a year left in her term, that will not be necessary. Marla Dickerson with the Southern University Law Center says this is a bit of a grey area, but from what she understands, the judiciary could still act on the formal complaint even though LeBlanc has stepped down.
WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked Dickerson if because there’s a resignation in this case now, whether it’s possible for there to still be repercussions from the Louisiana Supreme Court.
”Correct. The complaint is still out there ever though Judge LeBlanc has resigned. I think it’s going to be up to the judiciary commission to decide if they want to move forward with the investigative process,” said Dickerson. “There are other outcomes, such as admonishment, if the commission decides that Judge LeBlanc’s conduct fell below the standard of conduct for judges.”
Now as a private citizen, LeBlanc, through her attorney, says she will continue to apologize and make amends for the damage caused by her words.
WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked her attorney how she plans to repair her public image.
“I think how she repairs it is the same way that she built her reputation in the first place,” said Craft. “She volunteers in the community. She’s been in that community her entire lifetime and she’s always served as an example in the community. Her unfortunate use of inappropriate language on that occasion is no reflection on Jessie LeBlanc as a person, as a Christian, or as a judge.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, which previously called for the judge’s removal, released the following response to her resignation Thursday:
The Louisiana Democratic Party, which also called for Judge LeBlanc’s resignation, responded Thursday: