A 16th Judicial District Court judge pushed back consideration of motions to remove Judge Lori Landry, a black judge, from criminal cases in the district Wednesday. 

District Attorney Bo Duhé’s office has moved to remove Landry from 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. The 16th Judicial District Court covers Iberia, St. Martin and St. Mary parishes.

The district attorney’s office argues that Landry is “biased and prejudiced against this Office such that she cannot be fair or impartial.”

First Assistant District Attorney Robert Vines, who filed the recusal motions on the district attorney’s behalf, made the request for continuances in about a dozen cases Wednesday. Vines said the hearing on the recusal motions was premature because evidence in the case, including transcripts and audio recordings, aren’t due until Nov. 11.

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He was joined by nearly 75 demonstrators and Landry supporters who packed the benches of the courtroom and lingered in the hallway as the decision was made. Some supporters lamented that the continuance was an effort to subjugate their efforts in support of Landry.

Organizer and activist Khadijah Rashad, who rallied the supporters, was removed from the courtroom after she attempted to question District Court Judge Anthony Thibodeaux about the proceedings and was asked to remain quiet.

Thibodeaux said the delay is a necessity and is better for Landry.

“This will be dealt with eventually, but there are things that need to get done before we get to these so that Judge Landry can have a fair hearing,” he said.

More motions are scheduled for review Thursday before Judge Lewis H. Pitman, Jr. Other hearing dates are still being scheduled. 

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, Judge Landry’s secretary said the judge was unable to comment given the ongoing court proceedings.

Rashad and other organizers gathered on the steps of the courthouse after the hearing to plan for Thursday’s court appearance and offer prayers for Landry. Rashad told the crowd this is just the beginning of a “long haul” and community members must continue voicing their support and concerns.

As they rallied, Rashad passed around a pink three-ring binder, collecting names and phone numbers for a petition.

“We elected Judge Lori Landry. She wasn’t appointed, she wasn’t selected and by God’s honor we’re going to see to it that she serves out her time the way she’s supposed to,” Rashad said.

Lafayette NAACP chapter president Marja Broussard said it’s important Landry’s supporters learn how to play the court’s procedural game. While they can’t make the rules, they can learn them and use them to their advantage, she said.

“We have to remember that there’s a system in place and it’s a game, and we have to learn how to play that game,” Broussard said.

Family members of Landry’s were also present Wednesday. Eva Lewis, Landry’s mother, thanked the gathered crowd for supporting her daughter and challenged them to remain civil in their discourse and actions.

“Judge Landry appreciates what we are doing for her. I know she would want this movement to be decent and in order. If you want respect, you give respect. That’s what we are all about and that’s what we’re going to do,” Lewis said.

Vines said in the recusal motion the decision to seek Landry’s removal was made after “great deliberation.” He also claimed, “Judge Landry’s accusations and mistreatment have been escalating in frequency and seriousness.”

In the motion Vines offered over 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 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.

She also raised issue with perceived injustice and inconsistency in the district attorney’s office’s plea offerings and the office’s potential selective use of the state’s habitual offender statute to harm African Americans, the court documents say.

Outside Landry’s perceived racial bias, the district attorney’s office argues she bullied and harangued staff, victims and others. They claim she “suggested that [victims] are somehow responsible for the fact that they are the victims of crimes” and mocked or attempted to humiliate the district attorney’s office’s staff repeatedly, creating an unprofessional environment.

Karen Jones grew up with Landry and the two women both attend Lighthouse Missionary Baptist Church. Jones and fellow congregants attended the hearing on Wednesday and intend to continue showing out for their sister in faith, she said.

Jones said it’s the right thing to do.

“I think the claims are false. If anybody is bullying anybody it’s them bullying her,” Jones said

She said she doesn’t think it’s appropriate for the recusal motions to be heard by Landry’s fellow judges in the 16th Judicial District Court because they’ve served on the bench with her and bring their own biases to the situation. Jones said she thinks the recusal motions should be heard by an outside judge in a different district or a higher court in the state.

Email Katie Gagliano at kgagliano@theadvocate.com