Posted: Feb 27, 2012 10:42 PM by Shawn Kline
Updated: Feb 27, 2012 10:48 PM
Are district judges in St. Landry Parish following their own order?
A controversial order was put in place earlier this month, sealing all sex crimes from public view. Both KATC and the Eunice News wrote number of articles expressing the potential violations this blanket seal may run into.
Here's some background on the restricted public records:
KATC was doing some routine check-ups on cases in St. Landry Parish Court. We were told all sex crimes were sealed by a judge's verbal order. We contested that order.
Those files involving sex crimes were opened; only hiding victims' identities as provided in RS 46:1844 W. Confidentiality of crime victims who are minors and victims of sex offenses.
Four district judges sign a formal order, sealing all sex crimes in the parish, excluding certified court minutes, to "protect the victims' identities."
KATC's Shawn Kline filed a public records request, asking for specific information as to why a 2009 rape case was transferred from Judge Ellis Daigle to Judge James Doherty. Both judges released a Per Curiam describing, in detail, the reasons for the case transfer.
According to Clerk of Court Charles Jagneaux, that information was supposed to be under-wraps as stated in the judges' February 7th order.
Of Louisiana's 64 parishes, St. Landry is the only one to broadly restrict access to sex crimes, giving Clerk of Court Charles Jagneaux specific guidelines on what information is public and what's under-wraps.
"We're only allowed to give out the certified copies of the minutes," Jagneaux said. "That's it."
At least, that's what's stated in the February 7th order regarding a blanket seal of all sex crimes. We showed Jagneaux the Per Curiam we received from two of the judges who signed that order.
"I don't know where you got that Per Curiam," Jagneaux said. "I wouldn't be able to give it to you if it was part of a sex offense case or a juvenile case."
The information requested was in reference to a rape case going back to 2009 and suddenly transferred in January from Judge Ellis Daigle's court to Judge James Doherty's court.
According to the Per Curiam those judges gave us, the defendant's mother was 'friends' with Judge Daigle on a social media website. To avoid a conflict of interest, the court moved the case to Judge Doherty.
In response to our public records request, Doherty writes:
"This will not set a precedent... In the future any public records request... Should properly be directed to the Clerk's office."
KATC did contact the Clerk's office before filing those requests. The Clerk's office provided a copy of the minutes, summaries of the court. The minutes for this date read as follows:
"Per Curiam signed and filed this day (Jan. 27). It is ordered that his matter be referred to Division "A". All notified."
Due to the lack of specificity, KATC filed a public records request with Judges Daigle and Doherty.
The Clerk's office maintains it was following the judges' order to keep information like a Per Curiam sealed as referenced in the order, "...sealed from public view with the exception of certified court minutes..."
KATC continues to work with our own attorneys to see how we can get these records reopened for the public. Every indication we've received from legal experts says these records should be public.
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