NEW ORLEANS — A lawsuit filed last week in federal court alleges that the Louisiana Judiciary Commission illegally disciplined a judge and denied the plaintiff due process rights.
The complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana states that the judge, who is referred to only as “Judge John Doe,” was admonished and cautioned about certain judicial standards of conduct. The complaint did not specify the nature of the alleged ethical concerns, however.
Neither of the two attorneys who filed the complaint would provide additional information about the case.
“I am not at liberty to discuss anything about the lawsuit,” Thomas Schneidau told the Louisiana Record.
The complaint said the admonishment doled out to the anonymous elected judge was illegal because only the state Supreme Court has the purview to discipline a state court judge. The commission, an advisory body, can only bring what it considers are ethical lapses to the high court if it believes discipline is warranted. At the same time, the high court is under no obligation to follow the panel’s recommendation.
This case, according to the complaint, stems in part from commission investigations of the judge that began in 2012. The panel eventually closed the investigations without referring them to the high court, though the judge’s complaint mentions receiving a third “baseless complaint” too. The judge was not allowed to mount any defense against the initial two allegations and so was denied due process rights contained in the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, the complaint contends.
Valerie Willard, public information officer for the state Supreme Court, emphasized that the commission’s role in investigating possible judicial misconduct is fully outlined in the state constitution.
“There’s a hearing before a commissioner, a formal charges phase into the alleged misconduct, then the matter goes before the full commission,” Willard told the Louisiana Record. “That’s like a mini trial. All due process is afforded there.”
According to the anonymous judge’s complaint and a search of information released to the media, the judge sought a review from the state Supreme Court of the commission’s actions against him. The court, however, denied that writ on June 5, 2015, although records indicate two justices voted in favor of granting the writ.
The complaint also argues that the Judiciary Commission is pushing for rule changes that would ultimately increase the panel’s powers by allowing it to caution and admonish judges on its own. But Willard said nothing has been proposed to change the way the panel conducts business. The commission is made up of nine members, with both attorneys and lay people serving.
The complaint filed in federal court doesn’t explain exactly how the judge’s reputation has been damaged since disciplinary matters are not made public unless the high court decides take them up. In the complaint, the judge is seeking attorney fees incurred while pursuing these matters with the various courts as well as the commission.
In addition, the judge wants to head off the commission from taking certain actions in the future.
“The Judge seeks to enjoin the Commission and its members, both in their official and individual capacities, from referencing or using in the future the admonishment and caution they issued and any substantive determinations of fault or responsibility they made against the Judge… .” the complaint filed on Feb. 24 states.