A man accused of threatening East Baton Rouge Parish Juvenile Court Judge Adam Haney won't have his case heard by a district court judge who previously worked with Haney in the district attorney's office, a retired judge ruled Tuesday.
Ad hoc Judge Frank Foil agreed with Michael James Baxter's court-appointed attorney that, out of an abundance of caution, state District Judge Beau Higginbotham should not continue presiding over Baxter's criminal case.
Baxter, 26, 11620 Airline Highway, is charged with two felony counts of public intimidation and retaliation. He faces up to five years in prison if convicted.
Baxter, according to an arrest warrant and other court documents, wrote Haney a threatening letter in October after Haney terminated Baxter's parental rights several months earlier.
Baxter then voiced his displeasure with Haney in January on the social media site Facebook, the warrant states.
"If you want me to be quiet you have one choice, Kill me. I don't give a f*** about your position or the `power' you have, I will not kill you but I will say this, you better hope our paths never cross again because I will beat the s*** out of you for destroying my family without any probable cause," Baxter is accused of writing in the threatening Facebook post.
"It would be meaningless to kill you, I wouldn't cause your family the same pain you caused by taking a loved one away," the post continues.
Baxter was arrested Jan. 30 and is being held in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on $115,000 bail.
Baxter's attorney, Margaret Lagattuta, noted in arguments Tuesday before Foil that Haney and Higginbotham were colleagues and co-workers in the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney's Office from 2007 to 2014. She asked that Higginbotham and the rest of the 19th Judicial District Court bench be disqualified from hearing Baxter's case to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
In the recusal motion she filed Friday, Lagattuta said she "has substantial concerns that should Judge Higginbotham hear the case …, (Baxter's) due process rights will be considerably affected because of a personal interest in seeing a resolution in favor of a colleague …"
"I'm not saying that will happen in this case," she told Foil on Tuesday.
Assistant District Attorney Robert Savage asked Foil to deny Baxter's motion, arguing that Lagattuta had failed to show Higginbotham needed to be removed from the case.
Foil, who was appointed by the Louisiana Supreme Court to hear Baxter's recusal motion, disqualified only Higginbotham and ordered the case randomly re-allotted to another 19th JDC judge. If Lagattuta has a problem with that judge, Foil said, she can file another recusal request.
The case is now in the hands of state District Judge Lou Daniel. Lagattuta said she will re-evaluate her position after Daniel holds a status hearing in the case Wednesday.