BATON ROUGE, La. -- Gov. John Bel Edwards called Wednesday on a Louisiana judge to step down after she admitted to using racial slurs in angry text messages. The Democratic governor said the “state deserves better.”
Edwards said in a statement that District Judge Jessie LeBlanc “has compromised her ability to preside as a judge, and she has damaged the judiciary. She should resign.”
LeBlanc, who is white, now admits sending the text messages after previously denying she sent them. She acknowledged in an interview Sunday on WAFB-TV that she used the slur to describe a black sheriff's deputy and a black law clerk in text messages she sent to Assumption Parish Chief Deputy Bruce Prejean as their extramarital affair ended. The judge's admission came on the heels of previous reports in both WBRZ and The Advocate about the judge and the messages.
“I profusely apologize for that. I should have never said it,” she told the station. But she also said she has no plans to resign and instead is gearing up to seek re-election when her current term in Louisiana's 23rd Judicial District expires in December. The district includes Assumption, Ascension and St. James parishes.
“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," Edwards said in a statement. “There is never any circumstance or context in which such derogatory and degrading language is okay.”
The Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus also called on the judge Wednesday to immediately leave the position, saying if she refused to do so, the state's Judiciary Commission should start an independent investigation of her conduct.
LeBlanc's lawyer, Jill Craft, said Edwards should focus on his own branch of government rather than criticize the judge, who made her “contrition clear” about comments she made in a “private conversation.”
“If that is now the litmus test for any public official, then every one of our public officials should be immediately held to the same standard, including private statements about race, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, sex, religion," Craft said in a statement. “This means all public officials should immediately be required to disclose all of their private communications.”
District Attorney Ricky Babin and the district’s lead public defender have filed a court motion asking that LeBlanc voluntarily recuse herself from criminal matters in Assumption Parish, or be forced to do so because of the affair. Babin also said that hundreds of the judge's cases are now under review.
LeBlanc, who took office in 2012, said she doesn't believe the affair would cause any trial verdicts in her court to be overturned.
“The public is urged to look at every case she has ever handled, how she runs her Court and how she does her job. There has never been a hint of bias,” Craft said.