AMITE — More time is needed to decide whether the entire 21st Judicial District Court should be recused from a criminal case against an employee of the Florida Parishes Juvenile Detention Center, a state court judge said Wednesday.
Detention center secretary Joy Chauvin faces one count of interception of wire, electronic or oral communications for allegedly recording her supervisor’s conversations in an attempt to prove she was being targeted for a retaliatory dismissal. She has pleaded not guilty.
Chauvin’s lawyer, Tom Hogan, said all the judges and the District Attorney’s Office for the 21st Judicial District should be recused from the case because they appoint members to the Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice Commission, which oversees the detention center.
In a pair of motions for recusal, Hogan argued that the state Attorney General’s Office should take over the prosecution and an ad hoc judge should be appointed to preside over the case.
Judge Bruce Bennett, of the 21st Judicial District in Amite, said Wednesday that he is likely to grant the motions, but he continued the hearing to July 28 to give him more time to consider the matter.
Bennett and the district’s five other general jurisdiction judges already recused themselves from hearing a related civil case, in which the detention center’s former payroll clerk, Casey Sclafini, claims she was forced to quit her job after she contacted the state Inspector General’s Office about possible payroll fraud at the facility.
It was Sclafini’s tip to the Inspector General’s Office that kicked off the investigation that ultimately led to Chauvin’s arrest.
Chauvin told investigators that she had recorded her supervisor’s conversations because she was afraid the detention center’s management had pegged her as the whistleblower and planned to fire her, according to the affidavit of probable cause for her arrest.
The 21st Judicial District judges and District Attorney’s Office also recused themselves from a 2011 felony theft case involving the Juvenile Justice Commission’s former secretary, Brenda Bickford, who also had been District Attorney Scott Perrilloux’s executive assistant.
The state Attorney General’s Office prosecuted Bickford for stealing nearly $2 million from the commission. Ad hoc Judge Jerome Winsburg presided over the case, which ended with a guilty plea and an eight-year prison sentence.
The state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal also ordered the 21st Judicial District judges to be recused from hearing a related civil case, in which the Juvenile Justice Commission sued its former accounting firm, Hannis T. Bourgeois, for not catching Bickford’s theft during the audit process.
An ad hoc judge who heard arguments on the recusal motion in that case said he found no evidence of actual bias, but the appeals court said the potential for bias was enough to warrant the judges’ recusal.
The Florida Parishes Juvenile Detention Center serves both the 21st and 22nd Judicial districts, which include Livingston, Tangipahoa, St. Helena, St. Tammany and Washington parishes.
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