Caddo Assistant District Attorney Geya Williams Prudhomme was recently appointed by Supreme Court Justice Scott J. Crichton to fill the 30 day vacancy at Shreveport City Court resulting from the suspension of Judge Sheva Sims; this appointment is one of the many responsibilities of Justice Crichton for his judicial district. Prudhomme assumed her responsibilities on Monday May 4 and held court that day along with 2 other days that week.
Justice Crichton advised that “this appointment was based on qualifications, in consideration of race and gender, and with the understanding that Ms. Prudhomme would be separated form her employment with the Caddo District Attorney’s Office.” Crichton further stated on Monday May 11 that “to my knowledge Ms. Prudhomme and her former office are in compliance with all legal and ethical obligations.” Justice Crichton’s responsibility ended with the appointment; he has no jurisdiction over the internal workings of the Caddo District Attorney’s Office or that of the Shreveport City Court.
But somewhere along the way to Prudhomme’s swearing in and taking the bench a key legal responsibility was overlooked/ignored by a host of highly paid public servants including Prudhomme herself. Louisiana has a strong public policy and prohibition against dual office holding—which is the holding of two or more public offices or public job. Louisiana Revised Statute 42:61 provides “It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that public officials and employees perform the public business in a manner which serves to promote and maintain a high level of confidence and trust in public officials, public employees, and governmental decisions. The attainment of this end is impaired when a public official or employee holds two or more public offices or public jobs which by their particular nature conflict with the duties and interests of each other.”
Prudhomme’s job in the Caddo District Attorney’s office is/was full time as a prosecutor. While serving as judge ad hoc for the 30 days Prudhomme has a full time job working for the Shreveport City Court system. Clearly the role of a prosecutor and that of a judge are conflicting as to both “the duties and interests of each other.” To those who work in the criminal justice system the dual office holding principle is well known and respected—and hopefully the general public can understand (and appreciate) this safeguard for the integrity of our governmental process.
Evidently the dual office holding issue surfaced the first week Prudhomme was on the bench—and it was discussed by many players. Who dropped the ball is not clear—only that Justice Crichton did NOT. Shreveport City Court Clerk Robert Shemwell is a seasoned attorney; he refused to directly answer inquiries on the legality of Prudhomme’s service as a judge while still as an assistant District Attorney. Shreveport City Attorney William Bradford failed to answer emails on these questions. City Judge Brian Barber, a former assistant DA himself, swore in Prudhomme; he had resigned his DA position before assuming the bench last year after his uncontested election to replace now retired Judge Bill Kelley.
Newly self-anointed Caddo DA Dale Cox advised by email late afternoon on Monday May 11 that Prudhomme “has resigned her position as an assistant district attorney. She will be on the city bench as an ad hoc judge.” A public records request produced a resignation letter from Prudhomme to Cox dated May 11; “it is my understanding that my resignation was effective May 11, 2015. As a result of my resignation I will no longer receive any compensation from the District Attorney’s Association on a state or local level.” According to the letter Prudhomme and Cox discussed her 30 day appointment and resignation on May 1—11 days before she resigned.
On her 3 days on the criminal bench (May 4, 6, and 7), Prudomme’s docket had over 100 cases that ran the gamut of typical misdemeanors. These included the following: domestic abuse battery, child desertion, criminal property damage, theft of goods, resisting an officer, DWI, criminal trespass, among others. On the day that she handled the traffic docket she ruled on red light violations, speeding, no proof of insurance ,stop sign violations, and expired plates. Based on her resignation letter Prudhomme was apparently paid by the DA’s office her first week sitting as judge. The validity of her rulings in this criminal case can be questioned as invalid since she was still an assistant Caddo District Attorney on those days.
Prudhomme enjoyed a reputation for being a fair and reasonable assistant District Attorney and she is well liked by her peers. It is unfortunate that somebody in the cast of characters—including Prudhomme herself—did not check the “rules” for service as an ad hoc judge while serving as an assistant district attorney. The prohibition on dual office holding is not a new recent development and it is well known in the public employee circles. How this mess ultimately unravels is a story yet to be told—are her rulings valid, will the DA’s office be reimbursed her salary, will an ethics complaint be filed, and where will Prudhomme work after her 30 day stint as ad hoc judge?
If it’s any silver lining, it is expected that in the months to come Sims will have another suspension, if not removement as Shreveport City Judge; this may be another opportunity for Prudomme to wear the black robe. If she is back on the job at the DA’s office, hopefully she will get it right on her second stint as ad hoc judge. In the meantime, “the powers to be” at City Court should consider just having Prudhomme sit on the criminal bench; she has a very limited background on civil matters, and reportedly she had a very difficult time handling the civil docket this past week which is another travesty of justice.