Louisiana Supreme Court hears Boothe argumentsPublished 12:08am Saturday, September 8, 2012
NEW ORLEANS — The Louisiana Supreme Court heard oral arguments Friday afternoon regarding a recommendation of removal from office for a local six-term judge.Hardy
The nine-member Supreme Court body reviewed the case after the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana claimed Seventh Judicial Court Judge Leo Boothe committed three violations in connection to a 2002 criminal case.
In the case, Boothe granted a motion to reduce defendant James Skipper’s 25-year jail sentence to 12 years with credit for time served.
The sentence reduction in 2008 came after Skipper argued family hardship in the local court.
Skipper was originally found guilty of cocaine distribution in 2002 and sentenced to 25 years.
Before Boothe granted the motion, Skipper alleged that in 2006 Seventh Judicial Court Judge Kathy Johnson gave Skipper legal advice during a phone conversation involving Skipper and his nephew Justin Conner.
Boothe claims he granted the motion, in part, based on Johnson’s communication with Skipper.
The Judiciary Commission case against Boothe originated from several newspaper articles detailing Boothe’s reconsideration motion for Skipper’s charges.
After a report from the commission was filed and a hearing regarding the charges occurred in August 2011 before Judge Ulysses Thibodeaux of the Third Circuit Court of Appeal, the commission stated that Boothe committed the following violations:
•Having the reconsideration hearing without jurisdiction.
“Boothe scheduled and conducted the reconsideration hearing, granted the reconsideration motion and commented at length, both orally and in writing, concerning the transcripts of Skipper’s telephone conversations as a means of tarnishing Johnson’s reputation and rehabilitated his own,” the report said.
•Failing to recuse himself.
“Boothe was biased, prejudiced and personally interested in the cause to such an extent that he was unable to conduct a fair and impartial trial,” the report stated.
•Engaging in improper ex parte communications.
The report states that Boothe engaged in several impermissible ex parte communications with Skipper via letters sent, which he did not file with the district attorney’s office, to and from both parties in 2008 while Skipper was in jail.
“Boothe clearly knew the proper course of action in dealing with unsolicited correspondence from a party was to file the copy of the communication into the record and provide a copy to the other side,” the report said. “His failure to follow the proper course of action was deliberate and knowing.”
The commission recommended in its report to the Louisiana Supreme Court on Aug. 7 that Boothe be removed from the bench and be ordered to reimburse and pay to the commission $11,731.79.
On Friday, the commission and Boothe’s legal counsel were both given 30 minutes to argue their case, the majority of which revolved around the letters sent between Boothe and Skipper.
“In his letter to Skipper, Boothe tells him what he needs to do to get out jail including being in his good graces and influence from then District Attorney John Johnson,” Assistant Special Counsel John Eric Keeling said. “No one else was involved in writing these letters and the content speaks for themselves.
“Judge Boothe does not deny having written to Skipper.”
Justice John L. Weimer interrupted Keeling saying that Boothe had no influence over whether Skipper wrote the letters or not.
“He can’t stop an inmate from writing him, correct?” Weimer asked. “You get what you call ‘pen pals’ when you send people to jail.”
Keeling agreed with Weimer, but also said Boothe had a choice to not respond to the letter.
“But you shouldn’t give them advice on how to get out jail, your honor,” Keeling said. “And once he gets them he has to file them through the appropriate channels.”
Boothe’s legal counsel, Patrick Leo Boothe, said the letters in no way made any suggestions of legal advice.
“Judge Boothe responded by clearing up the misstatements and saying, ‘I have no hatred toward you,’” Patrick Boothe said. “He addressed what would really be an administrative issue that nothing can be done without both sides consenting.
“Judge Boothe didn’t, in any place in that letter, suggest that Skipper file a motion.”
Justice Jeffrey P. Victory said Boothe was in a position familiar to judges across the state who receive letters from inmates, but chose to respond to Skipper’s letter.
“(Judge Boothe) doesn’t have to respond to him at all — like the rest of us don’t respond to every letter we get from jail,” Victory said. “We don’t say go talk to the district attorney and waive something.”
Patrick Boothe disagreed with the justice’s interpretation of the letters intention.
“First he didn’t say go talk to the district attorney,” Patrick Boothe said. “The commission is trying to use these letters to connect the dots and cook this situation up.”
Justice Greg Gerard Guidry said the letters seemed to be written to dangle the prospect of getting out jail in front of Skipper.
“It’s like dangling the carrot of release of jail in front of (Skipper) and telling him he better change his story,” Guidry said. “You don’t take this as conveying a message to Mr. Skipper?”
Patrick Boothe disagreed with Guidry.
“This is absolutely not a promise to let Mr. Skipper out of jail,” Patrick Boothe said. “I don’t think he’s dangling a release from prison at all.”
During his closing statements, Keeling mentioned Boothe’s six terms on the bench as reason to hold him to a higher level of accountability for the allegations.
“(Judge Boothe) is not someone who is inexperienced or new to the bench — he has a history with the commission,” Keeling said. “Judge Boothe awarded 13 years of freedom to Mr. Skipper, a repeatedly convicted felon and drug dealer.
“Judge Boothe blames everyone but himself and expressed no grief except for the (court) costs.”
The court heard the arguments, but did not issue any type of opinion or ruling on the matter.
Louisiana Supreme Court spokeswoman Valerie Willard said a ruling usually takes between eight and 12 weeks to be delivered.