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Black judge persecuted for exposing racism?

By Brian E. Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Nov 14, 2019 - 10:14:28 AM

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Community leaders, activists and supporters are fighting efforts by local prosecutors to get a Black judge removed from more than 300 cases in New Iberia County, La.

Judge Lori Landry
A legal motion to recuse Judge Lori Landry filed in mid-September accuses the judge of being prejudiced against prosecutors in Louisiana’s 16th Judicial District. The 16th Judicial District Court covers Iberia, St. Martin and St. Mary parishes.

In a Nov. 7 recusal hearing Judge Landry denied several motions brought by the district attorney calling for her to step away from the cases. In recusals, the judge can voluntarily step down, refer the case to another judge to decide or a judge can reject the motion to recuse themselves and the decision can be appealed. In this case it can be taken to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. However, the matter is scheduled for a Dec. 13-14 hearing before 16th Judicial District Judge Gregory Aucoin. Judge Landry dismissed the motions as “frivolous and without merit,” and said only the state Supreme Court, the residents who voted her to the bench, and the appeals court can remove her.

“You don’t have the right to remove a judge duly elected en banc with a motion that’s the same in every case,” Judge Landry said in open court, according to media reports.

“These are the people who elected me and until they say otherwise, or the [Louisiana] Supreme Court does, I’ll keep working,” she said.

The seats at every hearing since the D.A. filed the motion have been filled with her supporters, who say the judge is being targeted for being Black and outspoken on racist improprieties in the local district attorney’s office.

“What we looking for is to make sure Judge Landry do the job that she was elected to do,” said Khadijah Rashad, community organizer.

Judge Landry was not appointed, but elected three times, Ms. Rashad told The Final Call in a telephone interview.

“If you read some of the charges that they’re giving her—being biased—that is crazy,” said Kevin Boussard, community resident and active supporter of Judge Landry. The ones guilty of bias and bullying are the ones claiming she’s doing it, he said.

Calls to the district attorney by The Final Call went unreturned at press time. The 28-page recusal document submitted by the D.A. cited past comments alleging bias and accusing Judge Landry of “bullying” assistant district attorneys, staff, and victims in her courtroom. It said on numerous occasions she “baselessly accused” the D.A. office of improprieties, including deliberately prosecuting Black people more severely and at higher rates than others.

“Their biggest complaint was she made them feel like children,” Mr. Boussard told The Final Call.

Judge Landry was calling out White prosecutors on corrupt practices like excessive plea deals that harmed young Black defendants, he said. Before now, being challenged and exposed by a Black judge was unprecedented, he added.

Observers say friction between Judge Landry and the district attorney’s office where she once worked as an assistant district attorney is fairly recent. She spent her career within the system and wasn’t always as outspoken as she is now.

Her supporters told The Final Call the 16th Judicial District has always been problematic for Black people. Judge Landry began speaking out on some of the double standards on how Blacks are handled compared to Whites in the local courts, they said.

Mr. Boussard said the prosecutors are angry with Judge Landry because she was trained by them and, ironically, they supported her election to the bench. “She was one of their number one D.A.’s when she was working under them,” he noted.

“Now the dog you trained how to fight is fighting against y’all for all the injustice she saw inside that y’all was doing,” said Mr. Broussard.

Judge Landry was the first Black woman elected to the bench in 2002 after serving nearly nine years as an assistant district attorney. She is up for re-election in 2020.

He said the popular narrative is the case is about Judge Landry being biased toward the prosecutors, but it’s about her “being real to them” because she is tired of seeing Black people getting convicted for nothing.

Assistant District Attorney Rob Vines, who submitted the motion on behalf of District Attorney Bo Duhé, wrote, “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.”

Both men are White males.

Prosecutors claim the judge “also intimated the district attorney’s office knew or should have known about misconduct at the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office,” which eventually led to a federal civil rights case.

Meanwhile, efforts are underway to move cases before Judge Landry to other judges so defendants don’t simply sit in jail. She cannot hear the cases while the motions are pending. The local Daily Iberian said Mr. Vines’ initial motion made it clear that the intent was to have Judge Landry removed from hearing any criminal cases.

Ms. Rashad said recusal efforts against a Black judge the community fought to have is “bigger” than Judge Landry.

“It’s about our children … grandchildren, our great-grandchildren,” she said. “We got to keep the focus on they’re taking our constitutional rights away from us … she had some kind of power if the people continued to elect her,” Ms. Rashad said.