Dispute between D.A.’s office, judge escalates

Judge Lori Landry

The dispute between the 16th Judicial Court’s District Attorney Office and District Judge Lori Landry escalated Tuesday morning as prosecutors met every attempted criminal arraignment with a motion for Landry to recuse herself.

A motion was filed last week to recuse Landry from a criminal case — and potentially any future criminal cases — based on what the motion describes as the judge’s bias and prejudice against the district attorney’s office.

The text of the 27-page motion claims Landry “is biased or prejudiced against this office such that she cannot be fair or impartial.”

Because prosecutors filed recusal motions in each case as they were brought up, no defendants were arraigned Tuesday morning. Each time Landry would call a case, First Assistant District Attorney Rob Vines would enter a motion for her recusal, effectively ending Landry’s ability to rule in the case until the motion was heard.

“This is a violation of the constitutional rights of the people who elected me,” Landry said of the blanket recusal motions during one of several contentious exchanges with Vines.

As the session opened, Vines sat behind the prosecutor’s table with stacks of copies of the 27-page motion the district attorney filed last week asking Landry be recused from any criminal prosecutions due to her perceived bias and hostility toward assistant district attorneys in her courtroom.

Landry was obviously aware of the prosecutor’s plans. Instead of handling arraignments first, then moving on to re-serving of warrants and other administrative tasks as was typical, Landry started the session with the administrative duties.

When Vines tried to introduce the recusal motions en masse at the opening of the session, Landry refused.

“I am filing motions,” Vines began, holding a three-inch stack of documents, before being cut off.

“I am going to run my courtroom the way I see fit,” Landry said in dismissing Vines. “When we get to that point, I will just ask you for each one.”

For the next 90 minutes, Landry went through the process of calling defendants to the podium, instructing them that the state was not ready to arraign them and sending them out to await word from the court. As time passed, she began asking each defendant questions about their arrests, like when they were arrested, which agency had arrested them and how many times they had been to court pending arraignment as defense attorneys awaiting their client’s felony arraignments waited.

At the end of the re-serves, Vines again tried to introduce his motions for recusal.

“Hold on for a second,” Landry said. “The state has something to say. But first the court will take a little recess.”

Landry left the bench for approximately 10 minutes, returning to begin the felony arraignments. Vines, however, wanted to note that many of the defendants Landry had already dismissed had docket numbers and could have been arraigned.

“This is going to create additional work for the state,” Vines said.

“I need not respond,” Landry said. “My record speaks for itself.”

After Landry said she would have each motion allotted to one of the 16th Judicial Court’s judges for a hearing as it was entered, Vines attempted to stop the process.

“This is how allotment works,” Landry said. The court clerk called the allotment clerk for the district and had each motion randomly assigned to a judge, keeping the allotment clerk on speaker phone as the process continued.

The original motion to recuse Landry is set for a hearing on Oct. 11. Now, however, there are dozens of recusal hearings scheduled in courts across the district, which will take time in front of each of the district’s judges to be heard.

Many of the comments cited in the recusal motion have Landry claiming the District Attorney’s Office “knew or should have known” of irregularities in the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office prior to the federal convictions of nine officers in 2016.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist,” Landry said, according to the motion.

“Filing a motion to recuse a judge on the grounds of bias is always a step to be taken with great deliberation,” the document concluded. “All that the District Attorney’s Office wants is what it is entitled to — a judge who fairly and impartially applies the law to the facts before her and who treats attorneys, staff, witnesses, victims, defendants, and the public with respect.”

But when Vines tried to make his objections on the record Tuesday morning, he and Landry began talking over each other as tempers rose.

“You will not speak to me like a child,” Landry told Vines. “You will not speak to me while I am speaking. WIth your body language, I am feeling a little threatened. I will treat you with respect. You will treat me with respect.”

As Vines continued to argue, Landry reiterated that she was not giving in.

“This omnibus motion is not — I am not going to recuse myself,” Landry said.

Vines said that District Judge Lewis Pitman was available to handle the felony arraignment docket should Landry step aside.

“I have not been removed,” Landry said. “Mr. Vines, you cannot recuse me.”

“You said I could make a record. Period,” Vines continued.

“Mr. Vines, have a seat,” Landry said. Vines, however, continued trying to make his point.

“Mr. Bailiff, please remove Mr. Vines,” Landry ordered. Before the bailiffs could respond, Landry instructed Vines to sit at his table quietly for a five-minute recess.

“You can sit down and do deep breathing exercises for all I care,” Landry said. “But you will address me in a different manner when we resume.”

Vines again requested to make a record of his position.

“I will allow you to make it at the end,” Landry said.

The recusal motion describes 36 separate incidents in which the District Attorney’s Office claims Landry:

• Said prosecutors from the district attorney’s office incarcerated African-Americans more severely and at a higher rate than others, have improper motivations and engaged in “trickery.”

• Engaged in abusive, inappropriate and bullying behavior towards the prosecutors and staff,

• Threatened to stab an assistant district attorney in the ear with an ink pen,

• Physically intimidated an assistant district attorney for a perceived slight,

• Blamed a victim’s family for “allowing” their children to be victimized,

• Repeatedly engaged in in-court behavior calculated to humiliate prosecutors, and

• Refused to fairly and impartially apply the law.

No dates have been set to hear the myriad recusal motions filed Tuesday.

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