An ad hoc judge refused Friday to force all judges in the 23rd Judicial District Court to recuse themselves from the malfeasance in office case against St. James Parish President Timmy Roussel.
Retired state circuit Judge Michael Kirby rejected Roussel's arguments that his role in setting the judiciary's annual funding levels and his political dispute with District Attorney Ricky Babin created an "appearance of impropriety" for the judges.
"I find nothing that would frustrate public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary of this district if they were to preside in this case," Kirby wrote in a 12-page reasons for judgment. "Furthermore, I have not seen any evidence that any such judge would allow family, social, political or other relationships to influence his or her judicial conduct or judgment."
Kirby found that the fact that the parish projects spending $2.4 million for the courthouse, jail and public buildings in general wasn't specific enough to accept the argument that Roussel's budgetary authority presented an appearance problem for the judges.
Kirby also rejected the over-arching argument that Roussel's refusal to fund pay raises for the District Attorney's Office led to Babin's retaliatory indictment of Roussel and that this alleged situation creates a problem for the judges.
"The court finds this argument to be quite an overstatement," Kirby wrote.
Kirby found that Roussel and the Parish Council have home rule charter-mandated responsibilities with the budget and must fulfill them.
"That he discharges his charter-mandated duties and privileges does not make the judges more, or less, likely to favor him, nor does it grant him an economic or financial interest in the case," Kirby wrote.
The ruling from the Plaquemines Parish judge was filed Friday afternoon at the Parish Courthouse in Convent.
Ralph Capitelli, one of Roussel's defense attorneys, said he had not yet seen the ruling and could not yet comment on its findings.
“We'll get the judge's opinion, examine it and decide what's our next step,” Capitelli said.
Ruth Wisher, spokeswoman for the Louisiana Attorney General's Office, could be immediately reached Friday afternoon for comment.
The Attorney General's Office is prosecuting Roussel on six counts of malfeasance over allegations that he directed parish employees to do work on private property during a heated re-election campaign in 2015. Roussel has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The ruling comes a little more than a week after Judge Jessie LeBlanc of the 23rd Judicial District threw out malfeasance counts over largely the same allegations against Roussel's director of operations, Blaise Gravois, after finding prosecutorial misconduct and overreach by Babin's office.
A state district judge threw out all five malfeasance in office counts Tuesday against Blais…
Babin previously recused his office from Roussel's case but continued to prosecute Gravois, as well as another parish employee on a separate malfeasance case.
Babin's office is appealing LeBlanc's decision in the Gravois case, but Brian Capitelli, another of Roussel's attorneys, has already said that he believes LeBlanc's findings in Gravois' case are applicable to Roussel's case.
Judge Jason Verdigets, another judge in the 23rd JDC, has been assigned to Roussel's case.
The 23rd JDC encompasses St. James, Ascension and Assumption parishes.