NEW IBERIA, La. — The bench trial for the hundreds of motions to recuse an Iberia Parish judge began Monday with testimony from two prosecutors who allege she committed judicial misconduct.
The nearly 500 motions to recuse 16th Judicial District Court Judge Lori Landry filed by the District Attorney’s Office accuse her of threatening behavior toward prosecutors and of having a bias in court.
After several preliminary issues such as introducing evidence and a witness list, Ad Hoc Judge Harry F. Randow stated that the nature of this case was unique but that he wanted to have it concluded by the end of the week.
“This is not going to go on for 12 months,” Randow stated. “You have people sitting in jail. We need to determine if the judge should be recused in each case and move on.”
Defense Attorney Charlotte Bordenave moved to have the case dismissed on the grounds that there was already a mechanism in place to discipline judges for misconduct through the Judiciary Commission of the Louisiana Supreme Court and not individual recusals.
“This is a thinly veiled attempt to remove Judge Landry from the court,” said Bordenave.
Bordenarve then questioned if the court even had the jurisdiction to remove Landry because there are ethical issues that should be taken up by the Supreme Court and not district court.
The defense then asserted that the district attorney’s office was seeking to recuse Landry from all three of the parishes that it represents - Iberia, St. Mary and St. Martin Parishes - for any criminal case now and into the future.
Randow then questioned if that would even be something that the court could do.
“The tantamount effect of what you are asking this court to do is to remove this judge from the bench permanently,” said Randow.
The counsel for the district attorney’s office, Paul Hebert, then requested a recess to review the potential constitutional issues this would raise.
When court resumed, Hebert stated that the individual motions to recuse filed by the district attorney’s office would be limited to each case that is before the court now.
Randow then heard testimony from Monday’s first witness, 16th JDC Assistant District Attorney Claire Howerton, who sat in on a civil rights case against Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies that Landry presided over.
Howerton testified that Landry made comments after the case was finished that she thought were inappropriate, including that evidence in the case was tainted and that the jury pool was stacked against the defendant.
In another case involving the molestation of minors, Howerton testified that she felt that Landry seemed to chastise the victims.
The second and final witness of the day was 16th JDC ADA Nicole Burke who was a prosecutor in the Kerry Stokes case, which is one of the first cases where a recusal motion was filed against Landry.
The defendant in that case was charged with stalking and home invasion. Burke sought to separate those charges and introduce new evidence.
However, Landry refused to hear new evidence, which prompted Burke to appeal the decision with the court of appeal. They sided with Burke and reversed Landry’s decision.
Burke then returned to court with Landry ready to negotiate a plea agreement with the defendant and his defense attorney. Burke then testified that she felt Landry was implying a “bribe of sorts” for Burke to either accept the plea or proceed with the case after the court of appeal’s decision.
Burke testified that she filed the motion to recuse when Landry told her that she would stick a pen in her eardrum because it was “not enough to kill you, but it’s enough to make you suffer.”
Burke brought Landry’s behavior to her supervisor who then presented it to District Attorney Bo Duhe.
Burke also said that Landry never apologized and later tried to characterize the remark as a joke.
When cross examined by the defense, Burke admitted that she could not remember when she filed the recusal motion, but had returned to court the week following Landry’s remarks when the Stokes case went to trial.
One of the defense attorneys, Harry L. Daniels III, then questioned why Burke didn’t feel that Landry was unfair at that point.
The defense then asked Burke about when she and another prosecutor held a conference in Landry’s chambers for the case after its conclusion and if Landry attempted to actually stick a pen in her ear at any point.
Burke then tearfully responded, “That was a humiliating and degrading experience, Mr. Daniels.”
The trial resumes on Tuesday at 9 a.m. at the Iberia Parish Courthouse and is expected to conclude by the end of the week.