Two-term Judge Jessie LeBlanc, the heir to a family with deep political ties in Ascension Parish, resigned Thursday after facing a chorus of calls to step down following the exposure of racist text messages she sent to her ex-lover, a former top Assumption Parish sheriff's deputy, in a fit of anger more than a year ago.

In signed letters sent to the Secretary of State's Office and state Supreme Court, the embattled judge said she would resign, effective immediately. She also said she would continue to apologize for using "racially inappropriate" language and also admitted to the affair.

But the 23rd Judicial District Court judge also offered a defiant parting shot at her fellow judges, three of whom she claimed knew about her then-ended affair in 2017. She claimed her rulings from the bench had "stoked the ire" of District Attorney Ricky Babin and Assumption Sheriff Leland Falcon.

"My decision is one borne out of prayer and fully cognizant of what this ordeal has done to my family. I thank God for them every day. I believe, however, as much as I wish to fight the irresponsible and vicious attacks, it is in my family's best interests and that of my 23rd JDC community, to stop the madness," LeBlanc wrote. "We do not need another Judge being endlessly attacked and vilified at the expense of the integrity of our system of justice."

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, and other groups who had previously called for her to step down welcomed her decision Thursday but also criticized the fusillade of countercharges in the Republican jurist's resignation letter.

"The Governor believes Judge LeBlanc did the right thing by resigning because she compromised her ability to preside as a fair and impartial judge," said Christina Stephens, Edwards' spokeswoman. "The derogatory and offensive language she admitted to using was wrong and her resignation letter was an unfortunate attempt to deflect from her own hurtful statements."

The state Republican Party hasn't commented on the jurist's use of the racial slur or her resignation.

In the text messages, LeBlanc had called a black court employee and black Assumption sheriff's deputy "n----- and a "Thug n-----" as she aired her suspicions with former Assumption Chief Deputy Bruce Prejean that he was in a relationship with the court employee, a clerk for another judge in LeBlanc's River Parishes judicial district, the messages show.

LeBlanc, who like Prejean is married to someone else, had been in extended relationship with him that ended in 2016 but had received an anonymous package in December 2018. The package detailing the phone records of Prejean's calls to the court employee, setting off the explosive text messages from the judge to him, LeBlanc told WAFB last weekend.

Though prosecutors and public defenders in Assumption Parish had been seeking to have LeBlanc removed from criminal cases in that parish, citing the potential conflict of her past relationship with Prejean, the judge had been able to weather the affair allegations after they surfaced in mid-January and return to the bench.

But the disclosure of the text messages with racial slurs — first independently obtained by The Advocate earlier this month — led to her admissions in an interview on WAFB about the derogatory comments about African-Americans and also about the affair.

The court and the Assumption Parish Sheriff's Office had previously denied public records requests for text messages from LeBlanc and Prejean because neither has publicly financed cellphones.

Amid the flurry of disclosures, LeBlanc has not granted interviews to any news organization other than WAFB.

Prejean had previously provided the Sheriff's Office with an affidavit swearing to the authenticity of the racist messages and a bigger sample of the text messages than The Advocate had earlier obtained. Prejean's boss, Sheriff Leland Falcon, also said he believed the texts were authentic. 

Some lawyers who practiced in front of her still aired some skepticism of the texts' provenance, pointing to possible political blowback for the judge's rulings in the criminal arena.

Once the televised admissions and apology aired Sunday , though, any previous doubts had been removed about the slurs and the affair, which the judge now says lasted eight years. The judge, through her lawyer, claimed the racial slurs were in text messages that had been altered.

Gov. Edwards, two NAACP chapters and several others soon followed with condemnations of the racist comments and calls for LeBlanc to resign. They said a person who uses words like that, even in a private, emotional moment, can't be trusted to weigh the fate of those before her, whatever her track record as a judge may have been.

Among LeBlanc's racist comments in the text messages, she indicated that she had never been unfaithful to Prejean but in doing so also seemed to suggest her suspicions of Prejean's purported new affair were made even worse because it was, she believed, with a black woman: "At least I was NEVER unfaithful to you with ANYONE — much less a n-----," one message says.

The word was spelled out in all of the text messages in question, though The Advocate is not doing so. Prejean has denied any affair with the employee, Sheriff Falcon has said.

The initial disclosure of comments using the potent racial term "n-----", with a long history of hurtful impact on African Americans, provoked strong reactions from the NAACP and other groups and officials.

"We've been called n----- too long," Eugene Collins, president of the NAACP's Baton Rouge chapter, said Feb. 21 after the texts first came to light. "This is a word that should be put to death. It should not come out of anybody's mouth."

Collins, who said his organization had filed a compliant about LeBlanc with the state Judiciary Commission Monday and was preparing an amendment Thursday, wished her well in dealing with the feelings that apparently provoked her use of the racial slur.

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"We are glad that Judge LeBlanc decided to step down. We really thought it was the right thing to do, given comments that she made and the use of the 'N-word.' We just could not continue to see her sit on the bench knowing she had used 'N-word,'" Collins said.

While her precise gross salary in 2019 wasn’t immediately available, the Legislature set state district judges’ annual salary at $153,485 starting July 1, 2019, up from nearly $152,000. Like other judges in her district, she has received a car allowance and reimbursement for conference travel, dues, fees and meals. In 2018, she took home $17,522 on top of her salary, the most of any of the five judges in the district, the court’s 2018 annual audit says.

Judges in the 23rd JDC serve in courthouses in Ascension, Assumption and St. James parishes. LeBlanc, an Ascension native and resident, had her judicial office in Napoleonville in Assumption. She also had a key base of political support and a camp in Assumption.   

For her resignation, LeBlanc wrote separate letters to the Secretary of State's office and to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

To Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, with a copy to Louisiana Chief Justice Bernette J. Johnson, she wrote beneath a 23rd Judicial District Court letterhead a simple, one-sentence statement that said simply that she was resigning, effective immediately.

In a separate letter to Johnson, also on court stationery, LeBlanc lashed out at others. Her litany included allegations that other judges had known of the affair but did nothing, that Prejean had had affairs with others in state and local government, that she was held to a different standard because she is a woman, and that the local prosecutor was vengeful because she had accused his prosecutors of misconduct. She said her resignation was intended to "stop the madness."

Tyler Cavalier, spokesman for District Attorney Babin, declined to comment Thursday. Falcon's office didn't immediately return a email seeking comment.

Babin and Falcon have previously disputed any political motivation in the disclosure of LeBlanc's affair and later the unearthing and public acknowledgment of the racist text messages, which they were first presented by the The Advocate, but said they were following the facts as they emerged.

Twenty-third Judicial District Judge Alvin Turner Jr., whom LeBlanc named in her letter to the Supreme Court as having prior knowledge of the affair with Prejean, disputed that claim.

Turner said that he had confronted her about widespread rumors around the courthouse about her and Prejean in 2017. Turner denied he was ever affirmatively told the rumors were true by either LeBlanc or Prejean.

"She never told me, and he never told me," Turner said Thursday.

State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, chair of the state Democratic Party, said in a statement that the sweeping charges raised in the resignation letter don't change the fact that the slur LeBlanc admitted to saying now raises doubts about every case she's presided over.

"Her scorched earth resignation letter is further evidence that she was never fit to serve in the first place," Peterson said. "Louisiana deserves better."

Assumption Sheriff: Chief deputy admits to relationship with judge that turned 'intimate'

The scandals over LeBlanc's affair and her comments also underscored the state's opaque system of judicial discipline.

She remained on the bench even as more and more damning information emerged with little public understanding of what the Louisiana Supreme Court or the Judiciary Commission might be doing.

In the days after the affair allegations first came to light, LeBlanc wasn't on the bench and the Supreme Court appointed a series of temporary judges to handle her docket but maintained her authority as judge.

But it was never clear from the high court why it was appointing those judges. LeBlanc, her office and the judges of the district court weren't commenting.

Only through subsequent records requests by The Advocate to the 23rd Judicial District Court did it become clear that LeBlanc had been on sick leave during those appointments.

The sick leave followed a mysterious car trip by LeBlanc to Florida that had so concerned her family that they called on law enforcement officials to find her. They tracked her down outside Pensacola, Florida, by pinging her cellphone, records show.

LeBlanc had since returned to the bench, but hadn't presided in criminal cases in Assumption.

LeBlanc was set for election in the fall. Because less than a year is left on her six-year term, the state Supreme Court must appoint an interim judge until the election, a spokesman for the Secretary of State said. Leblanc's term ends Dec. 31.

LeBlanc, daughter of deceased longtime Ascension Parish Assessor Gerald McCrory and onetime assistant district attorney, was elected to the bench in March 2012 special election.

She replaced Judge Jane Triche-Milazzo. Triche-Milazzo, a Democrat, left the bench then to take an appointment to the federal bench. 

Sheriff Falcon demoted Prejean in January and cut his pay after he admitted to the affair — after first denying it. His rank dropped from chief deputy to captain.

The Advocate reporter Sam Karlin contributed to this report.

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