Opinions vary on whether judge who signed recall petition should have recused herself from voter rolls lawsuit
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - After the Times-Picayune uncovered an interesting signature on the petition to recall New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, some say Judge Jennifer Medley should have recused herself from hearing a lawsuit over the accuracy of the voter rolls and others say she did nothing wrong.
According to records so far only provided to the newspaper, Judge Medley signed the petition last December before signing off on an agreement on March 1 to lower the threshold of signatures needed to trigger a recall election.
The agreement settled a lawsuit brought by recall organizers against Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters Sandra Wilson and Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin. The suit alleged that numerous errors had left the number of registered and active voters on New Orleans’ rolls artificially high. For a recall election on the mayor to be triggered, organizers must have collected signatures from 20 percent of the city’s eligible electors.
“If you have a judge who is adjudicating a matter involving the recall election and that judge has in fact signed the petition for recall, that judge has indicated that their interests are coincidence with one of the parties of this case, which are the recall organizers,” said Joel Friedman, Tulane Law Professor Emeritus. “This seems very clear to me that the judge should have immediately removed herself.”
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Friedman says all judges are governed by a judicial code of ethics which he says makes it very clear about avoiding conflicts or even the appearance of a conflict.
“At a minimum, she should have revealed the conflict to the parties,” he said.
“Was she required to recuse herself? The answer, I think, is no,” said attorney Andrew Lilly. “Judge Medley expressed by signing the recall petition her no-confidence vote. That’s what all of us can do when we vote or we sign a recall petition. But bias isn’t enough here. It would have to be bias that would affect the judge’s ability to do her job.”
Lilly says the judge’s job, in this case, had more to do with the accuracy of the voter rolls.
“I don’t think that Judge Medley would have to use or suppress her bias to make a decision on that,” Lilly said. “There’s no behind-the-scenes reason why Judge Medley would need to have disclosed ‘hey, I signed this thing.’”
While Mayor Cantrell was not part of the agreement reached between recall organizers and Ardoin’s office, the outcome will certainly affect the recall effort. According to the final document, the number of qualified electors in the city when the recall petition was filed last Aug. 26 had been considered to be 249,876, but will now be considered to be 224,876 -- a reduction of 25,000.
“I mean, can you imagine the implications if we take this judge to task for signing the recall petitioner? At what point do we start scrutinizing who she voted for?” Lilly asked.
“For a judge to participate in this, even to sanction this agreement when the judge had a clear interest in one of the parties - the recall organizers - is clearly a conflict of interest that I think should have been a basis for recusal,” Friedman said. “This is about judges having the appearance to the public that they are completely unbiased with respect to every matter that comes before them.”
The mayor’s attorney called the situation “very disturbing” and went on to say in a statement “it is important that there is full disclosure to maintain the confidence of the voting public.”
A spokesperson for Civil Court said Judge Medley could not comment on pending or ongoing litigation.
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