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Former Assumption Parish 23rd Judicial District Judge Jessie Leblanc

The state district judge who stepped down last week amid a controversy over racist texts had ordered the arrest of a black Assumption Parish narcotics deputy who was absent from an August trial, less than a year after calling him a racial slur in the messages.

In December 2018, then-Judge Jessie LeBlanc called Lt. Erick Taylor a "Dirty cop. Thug. N*****" in private text messages with her ex-lover, then-Chief Deputy Bruce Prejean. The string of texts — obtained by The Advocate and later verified by Prejean — centered mainly on the apparent breakup between the two.

The messages included a racial slur against a black court employee she suspected of having a sexual relationship with Prejean, but also targeted Taylor for reasons that are unclear in the texts. Both LeBlanc and Prejean are white.

The messages came to light earlier this year as the judge was locked in a fight with the District Attorney's Office over whether she should be forced off cases involving the sheriff's office because of her past relationship with Prejean.   

In a newly disclosed memo dated Dec. 23, 2019, Assumption Sheriff Leland Falcon described the events leading up to LeBlanc's issuing of a bench warrant for Taylor after he missed a trial date in August. Falcon — writing to 23rd Judicial District Attorney Ricky Babin — concluded the judge should be recused from another narcotics case, which was pending.

"Judge LeBlanc demonstrates an apparent bias towards Lieutenant Erick Taylor who serves in my Narcotics Division," Falcon wrote.

Both Falcon and Babin have said they didn't know about the racist texts at the time they began trying to get LeBlanc removed from certain criminal cases, shortly after the sheriff issued the memo.

LeBlanc later relented on jailing Taylor after a special hearing in which she called in prosecutors, Taylor and others to discuss why she had not been informed about his expected absence from the August trial.

Taylor was attending a conference in New Orleans with Prejean the day of the missed trial and had informed the District Attorney's Office, but the message didn't get passed on to the lead prosecutor or the judge, court transcripts show.

Jill Craft, an attorney for LeBlanc, pointed out Thursday that Taylor had been subpoenaed and prosecutors had to dismiss the case, a drug charge, because he failed to appear.

Craft added that Taylor's job as a law enforcement officer doesn't mean he can ignore a subpoena.

Craft asserted her client continues to be attacked because she found that one of Babin's prosecutors committed misconduct in a case in another parish and because she had rejected two warrants sought by Assumption sheriff's deputies.

"Judge LeBlanc has resigned," Craft said. "This latest round of endless attacks is further evidence of the lengths some people will go to attempt to hurt another."

Falcon's memo was provided to The Advocate Thursday through a public records request with the Sheriff's Office. 

Attempts to reach Taylor and his attorney have been unsuccessful.

In the texts that led to her resignation, LeBlanc also called a former law clerk of another judge in the 23rd Judicial District a "n*****". In the messages, LeBlanc accused Prejean of having an affair with the woman, an allegation he has denied.

Falcon had sent Babin the memo about Taylor shortly before they publicly claimed that LeBlanc had refused to sign a narcotics warrant because of her close "personal relationship" with Prejean. Babin began notifying defendants of a possible conflict of interest due to the then-uncertain nature of the close relationship.

At the time, Prejean denied having had a romantic relationship with the judge. He ended up admitting to it in early January. LeBlanc admitted to the affair last month after neither confirming nor denying it for weeks.

Both Prejean and LeBlanc are married to other people.

The memo from Falcon, along with court transcripts, cast light on the simmering dispute between the Assumption Sheriff's Office and LeBlanc over her denial of warrants in the months leading up the disclosure of her romantic relationship with Prejean. 

The flap over Taylor's court absence followed an earlier incident between Taylor and the judge. According to the sheriff's memo, LeBlanc justified issuing the bench warrant for Taylor by saying he disrespected her not only by missing the trial date, but also by his argumentative attitude in a telephone call over a denied warrant nearly two years earlier. 

Falcon's memo notes that during the bench warrant hearing for Taylor, the judge said: "I feel like you have been totally disrespectful to this Court and your credibility is tremendously diminished with me."

Falcon claimed the judge made the statement about Taylor's credibility in open court even though she'd already been told twice that the deputy had followed the procedures about expected absences.

According to a transcript of the hearing over Taylor's missed court date, LeBlanc herself raised the disagreement with him over the denied warrant from two years ago.

The judge said Taylor had talked to her like she "was basically a two-year-old" and never apologized, and also said the warrant lacked necessary information about a confidential informant.

She said that conversation was a factor in her decision to issue the bench warrant for Taylor's arrest.

"So, then this happens yesterday, and my perception of the entire proceeding was that Lieutenant Taylor was going to do what he wanted to do, it didn't matter what Judge Leblanc said, and so what," the judge said, calling the incident "a slap in my face."

LeBlanc did say in an email after the hearing that Taylor's credibility had not been diminished in her court because he had followed the prosecutors' procedures for notifying them about expected court absences. LeBlanc later told Falcon she no longer had any problem with the deputy. 

Taylor also apologized for the miscommunication, saying he hadn't intended to disrespect LeBlanc or the court. 

Email David J. Mitchell at dmitchell@theadvocate.com

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.