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La. Supreme Court: Boothe may be out a year

NEW ORLEANS — The Louisiana Supreme Court issued a recommendation Tuesday that Seventh Judicial Court Judge Leo Boothe be suspended from office for one year without pay and be ordered to pay $11,731.79.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in New Orleans in September after the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana claimed Boothe committed three violations in connection to a 2002 criminal case.

The Judiciary Commission alleged Boothe committed the following violations after granting a motion to reduce defendant James Skipper’s 25-year jail sentence to 12 years with credit for time served:

-Having the reconsideration hearing without jurisdiction.

-Failing to recuse himself.

-Engaging in improper ex parte communications.

The commission’s report released in 2011 recommended Boothe be removed from the bench and ordered to pay $11,731.79 in court costs.

In a report published Wednesday, the Supreme Court rejected the recommendation that Boothe be removed from office.

“After reviewing the record and the applicable law, we find that certain charges against Judge Boothe were proven by clear and convincing evidence,” the report said. “However, we reject the recommendation that he be removed from office.”

Boothe will have 14 days to file for a rehearing of the recommendation. If no rehearing is filed for, the recommendation will go into effect immediately.

Louisiana Supreme Court spokeswoman Valerie Willard said if the recommendation goes into effect, the other judge in the district, Judge Kathy Johnson, could decide to handle both divisions or the office could appoint an interim judge.

“If the other judges feels like they can handle the workload of the other judge, they can certainly take over,” Willard said. “If not, I believe that would be handled locally within their office.”

Boothe was on the bench all day Wednesday and did not return messages for comment.

Boothe has served six terms in the office, first assuming the role on Jan. 1, 1991.

Two of the seven Supreme Court justices, Jeannette Theriot Knoll and Marcus R. Clark, dissented from the majority opinion that sanctioned Boothe for judicial misconduct.

“Although I agree with the majority opinion Judge Boothe lacked subject matter jurisdiction to reconsider the defendant’s sentence, I do not find this legal error so egregious or in bad faith as to warrant suspension without pay,” Knoll said in the report. “Rather, because I believe his misconduct could be remedied with merely an instruction, I respectfully dissent.”

The sentence reduction in the 2008 case 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 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.

The Supreme Court has the ability to take the commission’s recommendation into account, but doesn’t have to accept it.

The report released Wednesday stated the Supreme Court felt the purpose of the code of judicial conduct is “to protect the public rather than to discipline judges.”

“The power to remove from office a sitting judge, and thereby counter the decision of the voters, is most assuredly an awesome responsibility,” the report said. “But the duty to exercise that authority has been vested in, and entrusted to, this court by the people of this state through our constitution, and it is an obligation to the people of this state that we are required to take seriously.”