A Shreveport judge has been suspended from the bench amid a Judiciary Commission investigation into whether he gave preferential treatment to a romantic partner whose DWI case was pending in his courtroom.
The Judiciary Commission investigation stems from reports by Shreveport television station KTBS, which reported in late November 2018 that a shooting at Shreveport City Court Judge Lee Irvin's home had become the subject of a criminal investigation. The television station reported that an ex-girlfriend of Irvin’s shot herself when she discovered Irvin’s romantic involvement with the defendant from his courtroom.
Shreveport City Court records show that Irvin recused himself from the woman’s case — in which she is charged with DWI, hit-and-run and public drunkenness cases — on Nov. 25, after the woman had several court appearances and pleaded not guilty in an arraignment. The Supreme Court appointed a few temporary judges to his docket, until he briefly returned to the bench in late December.
It took nearly two more months after the shooting and recusal for the Louisiana Supreme Court to temporarily disqualify Irvin from the bench while the matter is investigated.
Judiciary Commission investigations are generally performed in full secrecy, and Supreme Court rules bar people from revealing whether they’ve filed complaints against judges or from sharing documents related to those investigations. But Irvin’s interim disqualification from the bench makes more information about his case publicly available than otherwise would be.
Documents show that Irvin, his attorney and attorneys for the Judiciary Commission agreed to ask jointly for a temporary paid suspension on Tuesday. The motion they hand-delivered to the court — which is stamped “under seal” — said the Judiciary Commission opened two files “regarding possible ethical misconduct by Judge Irvin,” one based on KTBS reports and the other after Irvin self-reported to the commission.
The attorneys asked the Supreme Court to rule on the motion “as soon as possible to ensure the efficient administration of justice and continuing public confidence in the judiciary.”
Disciplining Louisiana judges is a lot like “Fight Club.” The first rule: You don’t talk about it.
The court unanimously agreed the next day, granting an interim disqualification that bars Irvin “from exercising any judicial function” while the investigations are ongoing.
Among those voting for the interim disqualification was Supreme Court Justice Jeff Hughes, who faced similar accusations that he tilted rulings in 1998 for his girlfriend, who was the attorney in a child custody case that Hughes was overseeing. The allegations against Hughes led to a five-year-long FBI investigation into him that wrapped up without charges.
Whatever actions — if any — the Judiciary Commission took against Hughes remain a long-buried secret, though Hughes wrote multiple apology letters in 2004 to litigants in cases that the commission probed.
Hughes, unlike Irvin, was not subjected to an interim disqualification while the allegations against him were being investigated.
Supreme Court Justice Scott Crichton, who represents the north Louisiana district, appointed retired Judge John Robinson to fill Irvin’s Shreveport City Court seat through the end of March.
The Supreme Court has not posted the actions involving Irvin’s case on its website, despite posting other actions — including those for attorney discipline — that also happened Jan. 29.
Irvin did not return a message Friday. His attorney, Ronald Miciotto, declined to comment for this story.
Corporal Marcus Hines, a spokesman for the Shreveport Police Department, said Friday that police have finished their investigation into the shooting at Irvin's home and passed along their findings to the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s Office. He said he could not share the findings.
KTBS reported that the woman who shot herself in the incident was seriously wounded, but is still alive.
Irvin could be off the bench for a long stretch while the Judiciary Commission investigation proceeds, if past interim disqualifications are any indication of how long his will last. Orleans Parish Criminal District Court judge Byron C. Williams received an interim disqualification order from the Supreme Court in July 2018 amid a Judiciary Commission investigation involving complaints that he groped a female court clerk and made off-color comments from the bench. Williams' paid suspension is ongoing.
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St. John the Baptist Parish Judge Jeff Perilloux, awaiting trial on criminal charges that he inappropriately touched his teenage daughter’s friends, was also issued an interim disqualification in June 2018. He also remains on paid leave.
The Supreme Court, however, still has not issued an interim disqualification order for Assumption Parish Judge Jessie LeBlanc, who has been gone from the bench since being accused in late December 2019 of a longtime affair with the Assumption Parish sheriff’s former chief deputy. Though the Supreme Court has ordered a series of temporary judges to handle her docket since then, the high court has not barred her from performing judicial duties.
Earlier this week, the parish’s top prosecutor and public defender filed a joint motion asking LeBlanc to voluntarily recuse herself from all pending criminal matters. She has yet to rule on it.