State District Judge Trudy White, who returned to the bench in February following an unexplained three-month hiatus, has apologized to her colleagues and the public for appearing in a video during her 2014 re-election campaign with a man in an orange prison jumpsuit who promoted her candidacy inside a courtroom.
White, in a hand-delivered letter Wednesday to her fellow 19th Judicial District Court judges, says she has "learned from this experience and the aftermath, and I will do everything in my power to make sure that such a situation never happens again."
White, who has steadily refused to say why she was gone from the bench, did not respond to requests for comment after The Advocate on Friday obtained a copy of the letter to judges. The Louisiana Supreme Court, which oversees the panel that reviews judicial behavior, refused to say anything about the matter.
White sent a similar letter by certified mail to Baton Rouge television station WBRZ, apologizing to the citizens of the Baton Rouge area and the entire state.
The man in the video, comedian Jomo Jenkins, stated in the video, "I'm down here at the 19th but check this out, I ain't gonna be here that long 'cause Judge Trudy White is fixin' to send me back home. So if you want somebody to show you some love, vote for Trudy White on November the 4th."
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In her letter of apology to the 19th Judicial District judges, White says she understands how a reasonable person might interpret Jenkins' prison rap character's statements "to mean that, if re-elected, I would treat defendants in criminal cases with leniency."
White said she also understands how the video "could cause members of the public to lose respect for the judiciary and to question its integrity and impartiality."
"My integrity as a member of the bench is important; but equally important to me is how my actions have impacted the entire bench. I did not intend to bring shame on the judiciary," she wrote. "I would not deliberately harm you or dishonor our Court. To the extent that my conduct has put our Court in a negative light, I am truly sorry."
White said she regrets making the video, which she acknowledged became the subject of "embarrassing" news stories in the Baton Rouge area and on the Internet.
White's challengers in her successful 2014 campaign, lawyers Gideon Carter III and the late state Rep. Alfred Williams, used the video to question her integrity during the campaign.
No public explanation has been given for why White took a three-month paid leave of absence. Her letters represent her first public statements since taking time off. Retired 21st Judicial District Judge Bruce Bennett handled White's docket from mid-November until mid-February. The Louisiana Supreme Court appointed him to do so.
Valerie Willard, the Louisiana Supreme Court's deputy judicial administrator and public information officer, said there is nothing filed at the high court regarding White. She said she could not comment on White's leave.
"I don't know," Willard said Friday when asked why the Supreme Court had appointed a judge to handle White's docket for three months.
William Morvant, the 19th Judicial District's chief judge, said he had no comment on the matter.
Willard said she could neither confirm nor deny that White's letters of apology relate in any way to the works of the Louisiana Judiciary Commission, which has the power to instruct judges to take remedial steps when misconduct or an ethical violation occurs but is not serious enough to warrant further proceedings that would involve the Supreme Court.
Willard said the work of the Judiciary Commission remains confidential unless and until the commission files findings of fact and conclusions of law with the high court.
The Judiciary Commission can rely on complaints or other sources, such as news reports, in making inquiries and conducting investigations into alleged judicial misconduct or ethical violations. The commission may issue a caution about a judge's conduct in instances when the actions are not considered serious enough to warrant further proceedings. If a judge acknowledged that the actions were improper, the commission could consider that a mitigating factor and require the judge to take actions to prevent a recurrence.
In addition, the commission can enter into a Deferred Recommendation of Discipline Agreement (DRDA) with a judge. In such cases, the judge must admit to some or all of the alleged ethical violations, agree to a private admonishment, and take specified remedial steps to address any harm caused by the judge's conduct and to prevent a recurrence.
The fact that a DRDA is executed, as well as the contents of the agreement, remain confidential unless a judge fails to comply with its terms and conditions.
White, a former Baton Rouge City Court judge, is one of the 19th Judicial District's eight criminal court judges. The court has seven civil court judges. She has served in her current position since 2009.