Three retired federal judges have taken the highly unusual step of intervening in the case of a Baton Rouge woman who claims a local prosecutor mishandled her 2016 rape case involving an Angola deputy warden.

The former judges, one an ex-U.S. Attorney General, say a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made a "mistake" last month when it ordered the dismissal of Priscilla Lefebure's lawsuit against 20th Judicial District Attorney Sam D'Aquilla.

Lefebure alleges D'Aquilla failed to adequately pursue rape charges against then-Angola assistant warden Barrett Boeker.

Lefebure's attorney last month asked the entire 5th Circuit to rehear the case and revive the lawsuit.

In a brief filed Friday in support of Lefebure, former 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Alex Kozinski and ex-U.S. District Judges F.A. Little Jr., of Louisiana, and Michael Mukasey, of New York, joined the call for the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit to rehear the case.

Mukasey was the nation's attorney general during the last 14 months of President George W. Bush's term.

The 5th Circuit panel, in its Feb. 9 ruling, called the conduct of local law enforcement in the case "sickening," but the panel said it had no authority to force D'Aquilla or any district attorney to investigate or prosecute someone and, as a result, had to end her lawsuit.

In their brief, the former judges said the 5th Circuit panel's ruling eliminated "an entire class of law enforcement-related equal protection claims, just as our national dialogue over discriminatory law enforcement has begun."

"Like the panel judges, we are sickened by the conduct of local law enforcement in this case," they wrote in the brief filed by New Orleans lawyer Sara Johnson.

"It shocks any semblance of a decent sensibility that there are places left in America where a sheriff and district attorney routinely fail to collect and process rape kits, where an assailant's `we got a little rough' is accepted at face value by law enforcement, where the victim is the one investigated, and where the well-connected can avoid spending even a night in jail after being arrested on suspicion of the most depraved conduct," the former judges said.

If Lefebure and others like her are not allowed to challenge the policies and practices "of such retrograde jurisdictions," they asked, "then who is?"

"If the federal courts as the last, best guardians of the right to equal protection allow these abuses of law to continue unchecked, then who are we? If we do not permit demands for justice to be heard now, then when?" the ex-judges asked further.

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The retired judges said their interest in the case stems from their decades of service to the federal judiciary, and their  ongoing commitment to fairness for all litigants and preserving the public’s positive perception of the judiciary.

Lefebure's attorney, Jack Rutherford, has said he's prepared to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. D'Aquilla has said he cannot comment on the ongoing litigation.

Lefebure had sought refuge at Boeker's home after the 2016 floods forced her from her Baton Rouge home, the attorney said. Lefebure is a cousin of Boeker's wife and children.

A West Feliciana Parish grand jury looked at evidence in 2017, but D'Aquilla didn't give the jurors access to a "rape kit" or a report compiled by a hospital nurse.

D'Aquilla has said the grand jury didn't need to examine results of Lefebure's sexual assault examination because both the victim and the perpetrator said sexual intercourse had occurred. He said the pertinent question in the case was consent, which could not be determined by the rape kit evidence.

Boeker and Lefebure each testified before the grand jury, and the lawsuit says Boeker is the only one who claimed Lefebure consented.

Rutherford has told the 5th Circuit that the encounters were not consensual.

Lefebure's lawsuit, filed in late 2017, alleges that neither D'Aquilla nor anyone from his office ever met or spoke with her about the alleged rape, and that the district attorney told reporters he was "uncomfortable" speaking with her.

Boeker's attorney, Cy D'Aquila, a distant relative of the district attorney, has said previously that Boeker insists the sex was consensual, and he passed a privately administered polygraph examination on that point.

Lefebure has claims pending against Boeker in federal district court.

The Advocate typically does not name people who report they are victims of sexual assault, but Lefebure said previously she wants to use her name.

She explained in more detail Tuesday that rape victims should be treated the same as murder victims.

"The only difference is sexual assault victims' names are not normally mentioned, but when a person is murdered their name is, and everyone in the community comes together to support the accused being locked away," Lefebure said. "Therefore it should be treated the same way."

Boeker was placed on administrative leave following the rape allegation but later returned to work at the prison. He was fired last year after spraying an inmate with a fire extinguisher. He is facing felony criminal charges stemming from that incident.


Email Joe Gyan Jr. at jgyan@theadvocate.com.