BATON ROUGE (CN) – Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards asked a state court judge to step down Wednesday after the judge acknowledged she had used racist slurs – including the N-word – in reference to two black officials in her district.
Judge Jessie LeBlanc of the 23rd Judicial District Court “has compromised her ability to preside as a judge, and she has damaged the judiciary. She should resign,” Edwards said in a statement issued Wednesday.
LeBlanc’s district spans Ascension, Assumption and St. James parishes, which lie along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans and includes portions of both cities’ metropolitan areas. The area, still rich in architecturally significant plantation homes, was once abundant in crops tended by black slaves. Today, factories and refineries replace the crops in portions of the district that lie inside what has become known as Cancer Alley.
LeBlanc, who is white, initially denied using the language in text messages in which she referred to an Assumption Parish deputy and a court employee, both of whom are black.
But over the weekend LeBlanc acknowledged during a television interview with station WAFB that she used the N-word in describing a black sheriff’s deputy and a black law clerk in text messages she sent to Assumption Parish Chief Deputy Bruce Prejean, with whom she’d previously had an affair. Both LeBlanc and Prejean are married to other people.
“I profusely apologize for that. I should have never said it,” LeBlanc said during the interview. But she also said she plans to keep her seat and to run for re-election when her current term ends in December. She has held the seat since 2012.
News stories last week said that in the text messages LeBlanc had angrily accused Prejean of having an affair with at least one of the people she made the racist slurs about.
“At least I was NEVER unfaithful to you with ANYONE – much less a n*****,” one of the messages read. [Word redacted by Courthouse News.]
Edwards, a Democrat, was joined in his call by the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, which asked for LeBlanc’s resignation. The caucus said it would be “complicit in such unjust and illegal behavior” if it did not respond to LeBlanc’s slurs.
“Too often we have seen justice dispensed in Louisiana based on race or ethnicity,” state Sen. Jimmy Harris, chairman of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, said in a statement to the Advocate. “Such behavior will no longer be overlooked or tolerated in our great state.”
Edwards’ statement Wednesday came on the heels of a complaint filed by the Louisiana and Baton Rouge chapters of the NAACP, which also called for LeBlanc to resign.
“The admitted and repeated use of racial slurs by a judge who has taken an oath to administer justice fairly and impartially is wrong, period. There is never any circumstance or context in which such derogatory and degrading language is okay,” Edwards said in his statement.
“Sadly, inequities still exist in society and in our judicial system. Judge LeBlanc has compromised her ability to preside as a judge, and she has damaged the judiciary. She should resign. The people of the 23rd Judicial District and our state deserve better,” Edwards’ statement said.
District Attorney Ricky Babin and the district’s lead public defender filed motions with the court last week upon hearing of LeBlanc’s affair with Prejean asking the judge to voluntarily recuse herself from criminal matters in Assumption Parish. Otherwise, their motion said, she would be forced to do so because of the affair.
Babin told the Advocate newspaper that hundreds of LeBlanc’s cases are now under review.
LeBlanc told the Advocate she doesn’t believe the affair would cause any trial verdicts in her court to be overturned.