Louisiana Record

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Louisiana Supreme Court says district judge has to pay fine

By Richard Jones | Apr 6, 2017

Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Darryl Derbigny | Orleans Parish Criminal District Court

NEW ORLEANS — The Louisiana Supreme Court has denied a request to hold a new hearing to determine if District Court Judge Darryl Derbigny will have to repay more than $10,000 in reimbursed health-care expenses the Court had previously deemed improper.

On March 13, the Times-Picayune reported, the Court issued a denial to the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana, which had requested the hearing on Derbigny’s behalf.

In January, the Judiciary Commission recommended that Derbigny repay insurance benefits he received from a program called Exec-U-Care. The Commission said that program was a perk available to members of the judiciary, but that the cost of the program should have been borne by the judge and not funded at the court’s expense. The payments to Exec-U-Care were made from a judicial expense account that is currently funded from court fees imposed by the judges.  

The Commission also ruled that Derbigny’s acceptance of the benefits amounted to supplemental income beyond that permitted by Louisiana law. The Supreme Court accepted the repayment recommendation but determined that Derbigny did not commit “sanctionable misconduct under either the Code of Judicial Conduct or Article V, § 25(C) of the Louisiana Constitution.”

Dr. Edward E. Chervenak, director of the University of New Orleans Survey Research Center, and a frequent commenter on court-related matters, told the Louisiana Record that Orleans Parish judges are provided with insurance coverage paid for by the state when they are elected. But Chervenak has no idea why the judge felt the need to seek additional coverage at the court’s expense or whose idea it was.

“I can’t answer why judges were offered a choice of outside policies. Maybe the judges weren’t happy with their existing policies and thought they could use the judicial expense fund to supplement their coverage,” Chervenak said. “Once it was started, it appears to have become an accepted and unquestioned practice.”

Chervenak said the use of the judicial expense fund to pay for supplemental insurance policies was a widespread practice among Orleans Parish judges, and the practice predated Derbigny by at least a decade.

“The use of the judicial expense fund to pay for supplemental insurance was institutional as all 13 judges of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court were engaged in the practice,” he said. “It doesn’t appear to have been monitored by the court. It took a legislative audit to uncover the practice and bring it to light.”

The Commission, in its report, did find that 13 other judges had also received improper benefits, but will not release any related information on the judges until their cases are heard by the Supreme Court.

According to the New Orleans Advocate, during the hearing, some Supreme Court justices expressed concern that the Commission was now stating certain policies and practices, one being the use of the judicial expense fund to pay for supplemental insurance, are illegal when previous versions of the Commission said such uses were acceptable.

Chervenak said judges are morally responsible and the use of fines many levied by the very same judges presents a conflict of interest.

“They are ethically at fault,” he said. “They had the power to assess fines and fees in their courts and then turn around and use those funds for their personal benefit.”

According to Nola.com, the Supreme Court voted 5-2 in favor of denying the request for a new hearing.  

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