Sixteenth Judicial District Attorney Bo Duhé’s office has moved to remove a black judge from more than 300 criminal cases across the district’s three-parish area, arguing she’s made unfounded comments alleging their office is biased against African Americans and bullied staff, victims and others in her courtroom.
District Court Judge Lori Landry’s reported comments include statements that certain assistant district attorneys “deliberately incarcerate African Americans more severely and at a higher rate than others.” She also intimated the District Attorney’s Office knew or should have known about misconduct at the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office that eventually led to a federal civil rights case, the motion says.
The District Attorney’s Office argues that Landry is “biased and prejudiced against this Office such that she cannot be fair or impartial.”
The 16th Judicial District Court covers Iberia, St. Martin and St. Mary parishes.
Several of the recusal motions will be heard in court this week after an initial hearing was delayed in mid-October. Judges Anthony Thibodeaux and Lewis H. Pitman Jr., of the 16th Judicial District Court, will hear motions on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. Both judges are white.
Altogether, the District Attorney’s Office has sought to remove Landry from over 300 criminal cases. The same motion was filed in each case, with the defendant’s name, docket number and relevant attorney information changed for each case.
Landry was first elected to the bench in 2002 after serving almost nine years as an assistant district attorney for the 16th Judicial District Court. She was the first African American female assistant district attorney in the 16th Judicial District Court and the first African American female elected to the bench in that district, according to her biography on the court’s website.
Her current term will run through 2020. When contacted Tuesday, Landry’s secretary said the judge was unable to comment given the ongoing court proceedings.
First Assistant District Attorney Robert Vines, who is white, filed the recusal motion on behalf of the District Attorney’s Office, writing: “All that the District Attorney’s Office wants is what it is entitled to — a judge who fairly and impartially applies the law to the facts before her and who treats attorneys, staff, witnesses, victims, defendants and the public with respect.”
He said in the motion the decision to seek Landry’s recusal was made after “great deliberation.” Vines also claimed, “Judge Landry’s accusations and mistreatment have been escalating in frequency and seriousness.”
In the motion, he offered more than 30 examples of Landry’s perceived bias and inappropriate behavior dating from October 2015 to September 2019, just days before the District Attorney’s Office began filing the recusal motions.
Landry’s reported comments about racial bias focused largely on perceived injustice and inconsistency in the District Attorney’s Office’s plea offerings and selective use of the state’s habitual offender statute to harm black defendants, the court documents say.
In one instance, she accused an assistant district attorney of offering a “sweetheart deal” to a white defendant, while other times, she questioned the difference in handling of cases and plea deals between white and black defendants. On separate occasions, she called the district attorney’s pretrial diversion program “extortion” and “highway robbery,” the motion claimed.
On June 11, Landry called a joint request from the prosecution and defense to continue a black defendant’s trial to a later date “B.S.” She went on to say, “They wait and wait and wait and wait until you pick up another charge. That’s what happens,” among other statements.
In a footnote, the District Attorney’s Office stated, “the District Attorney’s Office feels it must clearly state that the allegations of impropriety would be in contravention of the District Attorney’s ethical and legal duties; as such, the District Attorney’s Office vehemently disagrees with Judge Landry’s conclusions.”
Landry is also accused of bullying behavior and making improper comments to the District Attorney’s Office’s staff and others. On Sept. 13, Landry reportedly berated an assistant district attorney for “having a ‘sour face’” and stated “’that’ was the entire District Attorney’s Office’s attitude toward Judge Landry.”
On June 11, Landry told an assistant district attorney and a defense attorney she would stick pens in their eardrums after they attempted to speak with her about a case. When she prompted the assistant district attorney to ask why, Landry said, “Because, girl, it hurts, but it doesn’t kill you. It makes you suffer. See what I’m saying?”
In response to Landry’s reported behavior, the District Attorney’s Office implemented a policy that all bench conferences with her must be recorded, court documents say.
The motion also claims Landry was disparaging toward victims and victims’ family members. In a case involving incest in St. Martin Parish, Landry “suggested that the children’s parents let the grandparents babysit the children too often, and that they made ‘decisions that they should be paying attention to,’” court documents say.
The District Attorney’s Office stated Landry’s actions also endangered the public.
In October 2018, Landry refused to hear new charges that would have supported probation revocation for Aries Antoine, the District Attorney’s Office claims. The defendant was on probation for illegal possession of a stolen firearm, unauthorized entry of an inhabited dwelling and simple criminal damage to property convictions and had been arrested on new charges including assault by drive-by shooting, aggravated criminal damage to property and simple battery.
Landry instead found Antoine was in “substantial compliance” with her probation, the motion said. Two months later, Antoine was arrested on counts of aggravated assault and attempted second-degree murder. She’s accused of shooting a 15-year-old boy after “threatening him because he was associating with someone who allegedly stole her friend’s dog.”