BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Governor John Bel Edwards has called on 23rd Judicial District Court Judge Jessie LeBlanc to resign after she admitted to sending racist text messages in an interview with WAFB’s Scottie Hunter. The racial slurs were used in reference to an Ascension Parish deputy and a court employee.
Gov. Edwards said:
“The admitted and repeated use of racial slurs by a judge who has taken an oath to administer justice fairly and impartially is wrong, period. There is never any circumstance or context in which such derogatory and degrading language is okay.
Sadly, inequities still exist in society and in our judicial system. Judge LeBlanc has compromised her ability to preside as a judge, and she has damaged the judiciary. She should resign. The people of the 23rd Judicial District and our state deserve better.”
Baton Rouge Attorney Jill Craft, who is representing LeBlanc, released a statement following the Governor’s announcement:
“Judge LeBlanc has made her position and contrition clear. Her statements were made in a private conversation and in response to a clearly threatening situation. If that is now the litmus test for any public official, then every one of our public officials should be immediately held to the same standard, including private statements about race, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, sex, religion. This means all public officials should immediately be required to disclose all of their private communications, including by text, email or otherwise. Judge LeBlanc is a well-respected Judge and the public is urged to look at every case she has ever handled, how she runs her Court and how she does her job. There has never been a hint of bias. Judge LeBlanc is a member of the judicial branch. With all due respect, the Governor is part of the executive branch and his attention should be directed there.”
“I admit that I used that word. I profusely apologize for that,” LeBlanc said during an interview with WAFB’s Scottie Hunter.
Eugene Collins, president of the Baton Rouge chapter of the NAACP, was among the first to call for the judge to step down and believes the governor’s comments are significant.
“That’s a huge step for the State of Louisiana, making sure that our leaders of Louisiana don’t support a sitting judge using racist undertones or racist language in any form,” said Collins.
The texts the judge admits to sending are laced with profanity and heavy use of the n-word. She sent them after she and former chief deputy of Assumption Parish, Bruce Prejean, called off their eight-year affair. In them, she refers to another deputy and a law clerk as the n-word and even called the deputy a thug.
“I did call them that name,” said LeBlanc. “They do not deserve that.”
Amid pressure, the judge has said she will not step down and even plans to run for reelection when her current term ends in December. In a fiery response to the governor’s comments, her attorney, Jill Craft says, this is not the governor’s fight.
“With all due respect to Governor Edwards, he just needs to stay in his own lane,” said Craft. “He does not control the judiciary.”
Representative Ted James is part of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, which has also called for the judge to be removed. He believes it’s just not possible for her to continue.
“You’re supposed to be unbiased and to hear and read those things coming from a judge was just disgusting to me,” said James.
Craft calls it a slippery slope and believes asking a judge to step down over private comments is dangerous. If that’s the case, she believes others should be held to the same standard.
“At this juncture, if that’s where we’re going, then I really expect to see the governor’s text messages and email and everyone on his staff,” said Craft.
“That’s almost laughable to me and Jill is a friend of mine and a very good lawyer and she’s doing what she’s getting paid to do,” James responded. “She’s representing her client.”
Attorney Franz Borghardt, who has argued cases before LeBlanc, says he has never believed the judge to be anything but fair.
“I am profoundly disappointed in the text messages. I found them to be disappointing and uncharacteristic of my experiences with her as a judge,” said Borghardt. “In terms of a judge, she has always been fair to my clients and so it’s hard to reconcile those two things.”
While the governor has no real authority over the judge’s future, he is now among several groups who say she must go.
”Judge Jessie LeBlanc may be a nice person, but that does not negate the fact that she used racist language,” said Collins.
The NAACP submitted a formal complaint against Judge LeBlanc with the State Supreme Court following her admission. The organization also released a statement Wednesday, Feb. 26 in response to Craft’s statement:
Other organizations have also called for the judge’s removal following her use of the racial slur, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the country’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization. CAIR National Communications Coordinator Ayan Ajeen released the following statement Monday, Feb. 24:
“We call on Judge LeBlanc to resign because her use of racist and derogatory language would indicate that any judgement she makes could be colored by racial bias and that the law would not be applied in an equitable manner.”
On Wednesday, the Louisiana Democratic Party also called for her removal, releasing the following statement:
“Judge LeBlanc’s words were discriminatory, racist, and unfit for a judge. After this, it’s clear that she is unable to do her job and administer justice fairly. An apology is not enough – Judge LeBlanc should resign immediately.”