Judge Jessie LeBlanc

An Assumption Parish sheriff's deputy is suing a former judge, arguing her racist, derogatory comments about him in private text messages defamed his character and harmed his ability to do his job once they became public.

Lt. Erick Taylor alleges in a new federal lawsuit that then-Judge Jessie LeBlanc's text message — in which she called him a "Dirty Cop. Thug. N-----" — has spilled over to his work as a narcotics deputy as suspects have thrown the judge's words back in his face.

Taylor is Black; LeBlanc is White. 

LeBlanc, a two-term judge in the 23rd Judicial District, resigned on Feb. 27 after she admitted to having an eight-year affair with then-Chief Deputy Bruce Prejean and making the comments in text messages with Prejean in late 2018. The affair had ended in 2016, LeBlanc has said, and Prejean was Taylor's boss at the time of the messages two years later.

Filed Nov. 20 in U.S. District Court in New Orleans, the suit alleges three instances between May 23 and June 4, 2020, in which suspects used the judge's alleged words to question Taylor's authority and the validity of his actions as a police officer.

One example detailed in the suit involved Taylor's response to a disturbance call June 4 in the Bayou L'Ourse area. The suspect told Taylor, "'What are you doing to do? The Judge called you a n----- and you didn't do anything,'" the suit alleges. 

In another incident, Taylor was helping with a traffic stop on May 23 when a suspect told him, "'I will stand right here and watch you because I don't trust you. That Judge already said that you were dirty and she's gonna get your ass,'" the suit alleges.

Taylor's suit alleges LeBlanc's comments were made in her official capacity as a sitting judge, depriving him of his civil rights by defaming him with words inspired by racial prejudice.

Taylor alleges LeBlanc acted under the color of law, violating the 14th Amendment and state laws and piercing her judicial immunity. Taylor is seeking compensatory and punitive damages and attorney's fees and costs.

LeBlanc has been named as a defendant in her official capacity as a judge then and as an individual. An unnamed insurer is also a defendant.

The offending text message was exchanged between LeBlanc and Prejean in December 2018 but became public in February and March 2020 months after LeBlanc and Prejean's affair had first emerged — and while the judge was resisting calls to step down and directly address the affair allegation.

She later apologized in a televised interview and in her resignation letter to the state Supreme Court for "racially inappropriate" language and admitted to the affair.

In a prepared response from her attorney, Jill Craft, she said LeBlanc has repeatedly apologized for her comments that weren't reflective of her but were made in private and in anger with someone with whom she had a personal relationship.

"Ms. LeBlanc paid a heavy price for the relationship and for the comments made well over a year ago," the statement says. "She has atoned and continues to atone for her failings, but she, in no way, compromised her service as a Judge."

The statement also fires back at Taylor, saying LeBlanc, now a private lawyer, is representing a woman in Lafourche Parish who is seeking custody of Taylor's child and child support. Taylor also has filed his own petition seeking custody and the case is pending, court filings in Lafourche show. 

Taylor's suit replays LeBlanc's alleged questioning of a few of the deputy's warrants and his credibility and respect for judicial authority in the late summer and fall of 2019 in separate criminal cases. The suit also raises the bench warrant for Taylor's arrest that LeBlanc issued due to Taylor's failure to show up for a trial. 

That case was dismissed as a result, but Taylor alleges in the suit he had authorization to be out of town at the time of the trial and informed prosecutors. 

The suit also touches on the concerns Sheriff Leland Falcon aired in a December 2019 memo to District Attorney Ricky Babin that the judge was biased against the deputy. At the time, the sheriff has said, he wasn't aware of the text message from December 2018.

On Tuesday, Craft defended her clients' actions with respect to Taylor's criminal warrant applications, saying that as a judge, LeBlanc served as a gatekeeper who made sure warrants had probable cause and who rejected any that didn't. 

"While Mr. Taylor apparently complains Ms. LeBlanc, while serving as a Judge, disallowed a Warrant he presented, that is precisely what the role and function of a Judge is," Craft said.  

Craft said her client "will vigorously defend these allegations and, particularly, the allegations relating to her performance as a Judge."

On Nov. 3, voters elected prosecutor Steven Tureau, of the Gonzales area, to fill LeBlanc's old Division D seat for a new six-year term. The 23rd JDC encompasses Ascension, Assumption and St. James parishes.

Email David J. Mitchell at dmitchell@theadvocate.com

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.