Two witnesses called in hearing on recusal motions

Judge Lori Landry

A 16th Judicial District Court judge has scheduled hearings for the end of this month on recusal motions the 16th JDC District Attorney’s Office has filed against District Judge Lori Landry in an effort to have her recused from hearing any criminal cases in the three-parish court district.

Judge Anthony Thibodeaux has scheduled motions hearings in 20 of the criminal cases assigned to Landry that have been held in abeyance, waiting for rulings on the hundreds of 27-page recusal motions filed against her in the last month.

Each of the motions claim that Landry “is biased or prejudiced against (the District Attorney’s) office such that she cannot be fair or impartial.”

Last week, Judge Gregory Aucoin had scheduled a hearing on the first motion filed against Landry for Dec. 13 and 14. Thibodeaux, however, has scheduled hearings on motions assigned to his court on Oct. 30, moving the date for a decision forward six weeks.

Since the initial motion was filed on Sept. 17, the District Attorney’s Office has filed a copy of the motion in every criminal case it has brought before Landry, amounting to hundreds of motions that will have to be heard.

The filing of the motions to recuse has also stopped any activity on the criminal cases brought before Landry, meaning that the cases of hundreds of defendants brought before her are stalled until the motions to recuse are addressed.

According to Matt Menendez of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, the DA’s Office may face an uphill climb to actually have a judge recuse Landry.

“Proving that a judge has a general bias is very difficult,” Menendez said.

He also said it was rare to see a district attorney flood the zone with recusal motions, creating a logjam in the court.

“I have only heard of that one other time,” he said. “It is not common.”

The motions, which are all basically identical, describe 36 separate incidents claiming 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.

In a similar case in Philadelphia, an appeals court ruled last week that a judge not be disqualified from hearing criminal cases. In that case, the district attorney’s motion addressed a specific issue, that the judge’s girlfriend, a former city prosecutor, had filed a racial-discrimination complaint against the District Attorney’s Office.

In that case, the district attorney filed a single motion to recuse rather than hundreds.

Scores of Landry’s supporters have gathered in her courtroom in recent weeks to show solidarity with the judge.

“This is an attempt to remove a judge, duly elected by the people, from the bench,” said state Rep. Terry Landry, Judge Landry’s uncle. “If you want to remove a judge, there’s a process for that through the state Supreme Court.”

He also questioned the basis of the motion itself.

“None of her rulings have come into question,” Landry said. “None of her qualifications have come into question. All of this is based on hurt feelings and a feeling that that she is bullying them.”

Landry, one of eight judges in the district, said the continued pressure to remove her from hearing criminal cases is an attempt to remove her from the bench.

“This is an attempt to unseat me and overturn the vote of the people,” Landry said.

Landry has read through the entire motion from the bench, citing each specific case in which the DA’s office claimed she had exhibited bias, expressing sarcasm at points.

“On occasion, they say I even raised my voice,” Landry said, raising her eyebrows dramatically.

Thibodeaux is scheduled to begin hearings on the motions at 9 a.m. on Oct. 30.

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