NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge dismissed the case of Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Jeff Hughes, who filed suit against his colleagues on the state’s highest court over his forced recusal.
A majority of justices voted to recuse Justice Hughes from consideration of two writ applications submitted by plaintiff attorneys who had a significant impact on his election. Hughes claimed the removal violated his constitutional rights.
Hughes filed the suit in December 2015 when his fellow Supreme Court justices barred him from sitting in on cases that involved John Carmouche, a Baton Rouge attorney that gave generously to a political action committee supporting his campaign when he was elected to the Supreme Court in 2012. Carmouche represents several landowners and Louisiana parish governments in the battle against the oil industry in Louisiana for alleged land damage in the Gulf Coast.
Hughes was asked to recuse himself from the cases: Robert L. Walton et al. v. Exxon Mobile Corp. et al. and Vincent Charles Bundrick et al. v. Anadarko Petroleum Corp. et al. For both cases, he was recused by his fellow justices, which Hughes alleged violate his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
Political activist group Clean Water spent $487,000 to support Hughes' bid to the court. Firm Talbot Carmouche & Marcello contributed $360,000 to Clean Water in 2012 when Hughes was elected. Talbot Carmouche & Marcello represent both plaintiffs in the Walton and Bundrick cases.
U.S. District Judge Sara Vance dismissed the case filed by Hughes in December, stating that the Eleventh Amendment protects the state and gives it immunity from being sued in its own federal court.
“Without question, the federal court ruled correctly in dismissing the unprecedented lawsuit filed by Justice Jeff Hughes and his donors against the Louisiana Supreme Court,” Melissa Landry, executive director at the Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch (LLAW) told the Louisiana Record.
Landry said that the right to a fair hearing before an impartial judge is one of the most basic tenets of America’s legal system.
"Public confidence in the independence and integrity of judicial decisions are the backbone of the recusal process," she said.
Both plaintiffs in the Walton and Bundrick cases filed writs of certiorari to the Louisiana Supreme Court after receiving unfavorable outcomes in the trial and appellate courts in 2015. The defendants in these cases filed motions to recuse Hughes, which was granted by the four defendant justices at the time.
On Nov. 16, 2015, the plaintiffs’ writ applications were denied in both these cases. Hughes then filed suit alleging that the recusal orders “violated his First Amendment rights by preventing him from communicating his electoral message to the public.” He claims his Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated because the defendant justices “singled him out for unfavorable treatment without explanation or recourse.”
Vance moved to dismiss the case but did state that Hughes could go forward with the case if his allegations were ongoing. Another case has been brought before the court also asking for his recuse. This case involves attorney Rock Palermo, who also gave money to Clean Water in support of Hughes’ election.
“By recusing Justice Hughes from deliberations where he had a clear conflict of interest, the Louisiana Supreme Court acted to protect and preserve these defining elements of our legal system,” said Landry. “LLAW applauds the majority of state supreme court justices for taking this action and the federal court for upholding it.”