CONVENT — For a second time in about a month, a state judge facing accusations of bias has recused him or herself from the corruption case against Blaise Gravois, the No. 2 administrator in St. James Parish government.
Judge Thomas Kliebert Jr. recused himself last week, a day after District Attorney Ricky Babin accused the longtime St. James Parish judge of bias due to his "close relationship" with Parish President Timmy Roussel.
In a motion filed Monday, the district attorney’s office accused Kliebert of bias and asked that he be recused as a judge in the case.
A former St. James Parish government accountant says parish officials harassed and fired her in September because she testified nearly two yea…
Babin's accusations of bias range from Kliebert’s Facebook activity — he is “friends” with Gravois and 21 of Gravois' family members along with Roussel and his brother, Craig — to comments the judge allegedly made since Gravois and Roussel were indicted two years ago.
Roussel, as parish president, is Gravois' boss and his co-defendant in a multi-count malfeasance in office indictment from late September 2016. The men are accused of using public works employees to do illegal improvements on private property, primarily in the months before Roussel’s fall 2015 re-election.
Both men have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Gravois’ case was reassigned to Judge Tess Stromberg on Wednesday.
CONVENT — Prosecutors in St. James Parish are accusing a state district judge of bias in a malfeasance case against parish government's No. 2 …
Kliebert, a judge in the three-parish 23rd Judicial District Court, recently found Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa not guilty in an unrelated bribery case after finding the State Attorney General’s Office failed to prove essential elements in that case. The judge had only been on Gravois’ case since July 2.
Kliebert was randomly assigned after Judge Jessie LeBlanc, another judge in the five-judge judicial district, recused herself June 29.
Babin's office accused her of bias over her actions in court. LeBlanc disputed the claims but voluntarily agreed to step aside to avoid further delay and questions about her impartiality.
In Kliebert’s case, among several issues described in the motion, Babin pointed to an overheard conversation between Kliebert and Roussel at a restaurant where the two were having dinner in Vacherie April 27, 2017.
At the time, Roussel’s malfeasance case was pending before Judge Jason Verdigets. Leblanc had just thrown out Gravois' case out earlier that day over a finding of prosecutorial misconduct by one of Babin's assistant district attorneys.
“Judge Kliebert commented on this prosecution by stating ‘Someone is going to lose their license' over this case,” the district attorney accused the judge of telling Roussel in the restaurant.
“Judge Kliebert’s words and actions," Babin added in his recusal motion, "manifest bias and prejudice, and his impartiality is reasonably being questioned."
In May 2017, Parish Councilman Eddie Kraemer and Roussel talked about the indictments at Kraemer’s house when Roussel brought up recent comments he heard from of an unnamed male judge, according to affidavit signed by the councilman.
Council Chairman Alvin “Shark” St. Pierre was pushing for a separate council investigation into the malfeasance allegations.
According to the affidavit, Kraemer said Roussel told him he sent the proposed resolution seeking a separate investigation to the “Judge,” a male, at that judge’s request. Roussel said the “Judge” responded, “ ‘Wow, so a judge ruled, and he still wants to investigate it,’” according to Kraemer.
Contacted Thursday, Kraemer said he believes Roussel was referring to a comment from Kliebert about St. Pierre's push for a council investigation, even though Judge LeBlanc, a woman, had just thrown out Gravois’ related case. The criminal case was later reinstated by an appellate court.
Councilman Kraemer said the resolution for a council investigation failed — Kraemer said he didn’t support it — and said he gave prosecutors the affidavit when asked.
“Sometimes, unfortunately, you have no choice, and you have to do what’s requested of you,” Kraemer said.
Babin also pointed out in his motion that Kliebert was formerly parish attorney in the late 1990s when now Parish President Roussel was a parish councilman and the council adopted a revised code of ordinances, including laws on public work.
Babin also wrote that the judge could potentially be a witness in Gravois’ case because the judge received parish drainage and utility work on his property and parish liquor licenses for his distillery.
Attorneys for Gravois and Roussel and a spokesman for District Attorney Babin declined to comment Thursday. Judge Kliebert also declined to comment Thursday through his office staff.
In his one-page order Tuesday, Kliebert wrote that he was recusing himself because “a central issue” in the case involves “the actions or inactions of a former employee and the relationship with other parties, witnesses, and participants.”