The Louisiana Supreme Court announced Thursday it will appoint an ad hoc judge to decide whether the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court bench should be recused from any role in Attorney General Jeff Landry's probe into Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell's credit card use as a councilwoman.
The court's two-sentence order said an ad hoc judge will be named to hear a motion by state prosecutors to pull the matter from the Orleans Parish court.
Cantrell, who is set to become the city's first female mayor on May 8, has not been charged with a crime.
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Landry's office claims none of the dozen Orleans Parish judges can fairly oversee its investigation, much less any prosecution that might erupt from it, for various reasons. As mayor, it argues, Cantrell will wield power over the court's funding; in addition, her father-in-law, Harry Cantrell, is the court's magistrate judge.
Cantrell's attorney, Billy Gibbens, has opposed the recusal bid, noting that it was Landry's office that approached several of the Orleans Parish judges in the first place, seeking a signature on three subpoenas for Cantrell's bank records.
Judge Camille Buras signed those subpoenas on Nov. 27 before recusing herself. The matter was then allotted to Judge Laurie White, who refused to recuse herself or the rest of the bench after a hearing last month. White then stayed the effect of the subpoenas pending Landry's appeal of her decision.
Landry's office is investigating Cantrell's alleged misuse use of her City Council credit card — an issue that flared up during her campaign, spurred by backers of her runoff opponent, Desiree Charbonnet.
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Cantrell had paid back nearly $9,000 in credit card charges — much of it after she qualified to run for mayor — in what opponents argued was a tacit admission of misconduct. Cantrell said the reimbursements were an effort to ensure taxpayers were not asked to pay for personal or political items.
But according to legal filings, Landry's office also is seeking Cantrell's personal bank records. Gibbens has filed a motion to quash the subpoena for those records, calling Landry's pursuit of them "nothing more than an intrusive and harassing witch-hunt by a political opponent."
The Supreme Court declined to recuse White or any other judge on the Orleans Parish court. Its order set no timetable for an ad hoc judge to hear Landry's recusal motion.
Chief Deputy Attorney General Bill Stiles said in a statement that the AG's Office was "very pleased" by the Supreme Court ruling.
Gibbens also issued a statement, saying Cantrell's camp was "confident that an ad hoc judge will agree that Judge White can fairly preside over this matter."