After two days of testimony followed by two days of behind-the-scenes discussions over the admission of audio files as evidence regarding hundreds of recusal motions filed against 16th Judicial District Judge Lori Landry, all of the motions have been dropped with prejudice.
In a joint statement Thursday afternoon, Landry and 16th JDC District Attorney Bo Duhé said they were committed to opening communication and eliminating the issues that have arisen between the DA’s office and Landry.
“Bo and I talked, and decided it is best for us to do a reset and do the right thing for the community,” Landry said in court with Duhé at her side. “Bo and I, Judge Landry and DA Duhé, have talked as friends and as colleagues and have decided that we are going to do better. Together, we are going to do things to make this a better community.
“We are not going to take to the streets,” Landry said.
“I want to applaud the community and echo that communication is important,” Duhé said. “I look forward to addressing the issues that exist here.”
The motions were filed in each and every criminal case Landry had on her docket, amounting to somewhere between three and five hundred motions. Duhé filed the motions claiming Landry was biased against the district attorney’s office and that her actions prevented her from being impartial in trying cases involving prosecutors from his office.
Ad Hoc Judge Harry Randow said on day one of the hearing that the recusal motions filed en masse in effect become a request to remove Landry from the criminal bench entirely, raising constitutional questions. The normal procedure to remove a judge from the bench for cause leads through the state’s Supreme Court by way of the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana.
Though the months since the first recusal motion was filed on Sept. 17 have been contentious, the two hugged after giving their respective statements.
The crowd — close to 150 people, mostly Landry supporters, friends and family — burst into applause.
Because the motions were dismissed with prejudice, it means the 36 issues and incidents included in the 27-page motion cannot be brought up in future filings.
The hearing began Monday morning and continued through Tuesday, with about a dozen courthouse employees and attorneys testifying about their interactions with Landry.
The testimony stopped on Wednesday morning after disagreements arose between special counsel Paul Hebert, representing the 16th JDC District Attorney’s Office, and four attorneys — Harry Daniels, Amanda Cannon, Marie Johnson and Charlotte Bordenave — who had cases pending before Landry. The four lawyers were arguing that the recusal motions should be dropped.
Randow, a retired 9th Judicial District Court judge who the state Supreme Court commissioned to hear the motions filed against Landry, continued the hearing until Wednesday afternoon prior to testimony from First Assistant District Attorney Rob Vines and Duhé. When the hearing reconvened, Randow again continued the proceedings until Thursday at 1:30 p.m.
According to Bordenave, the discussion centered around the introduction of six audiotapes into evidence. She said Hebert wanted to use excerpts of the tapes while the four attorneys wanted the full contents of the audio to be entered into the record.
“When the tapes were played in their entirety, they were damning to the state,” Bordenave said. “I don’t think they wanted those played in open court.”
Bordenave also said the tapes indicated that at least two of the state’s witnesses may have misrepresented the situation regarding incidents in the recusal motion.
“One of the most repeated examples — the ink pen incident — when played in context was not what the state represented,” Bordenave said. “At least two of the state’s witnesses materially misrepresented what was said on the tape.”
Assistant District Attorney Nicole Burke related that incident in testimony on Monday.
“All that you two do is talk at me,” Landry said, according to Burke. “Talk talk talk talk. I’m going to take two pens, one for you and one for Mr. Daspit, and I’m going to stick them in your ear. Ask me why.”
When Burke asked, she said Landry told her, “Because it won’t kill you, but it will make you suffer.”
“I was thinking, ‘What is going on?’” Burke said. “I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. It was the most unprofessional thing I had ever seen.”
Burke said that she was so unnerved that the following day she did not object when Landry held a conference with the defense, excluding her from the conversation.
But on the audiotape, Bordenave said that Burke and others, including Landry, can be heard laughing it off as a joke.
Burke also said she had filed a complaint with the state’s Judiciary Commission against Landry after the incident.
After court adjourned, the attorneys and gallery members mingled on the front steps of the Iberia Parish Courthouse. One group formed a prayer circle in front of the entrance to the courthouse, linking hands and thanking God for Landry’s success.
Landry took the rear exit from the building, dodging the crowd of well wishers and avoiding an emotional scene. But the general consensus outside the courthouse was that the recusal episode could be a catalyst for the community.
“There should be better communication,” said Ron Wilson, Landry’s defense attorney. “They have disagreements, but they should be able to resolve them now for the good of the community.”
Daniels said the hearing should be taken as an impetus to continue the conversation between the courts and the community.
“Sometimes it takes something like this to make things happen,” Daniels said.
Landry’s mother, Eva Lewis, said she was glad to see her daughter and Duhé standing together in the courtroom.
“He used to be at our house,” Lewis said of Duhé. “I was concerned about all of this, but I knew in my heart it was going to work out.”