Drainage defendants object to case transfer

By Theresa Schmidt - bio | email

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Years back there were no minority judges in Calcasieu Parish. The federal courts got involved and created voting districts that more or less assured two black judges would be elected. Some think that federal consent decree may have been violated--because of the way cases are now flowing to one minority judge. It's an issue that could bring more federal oversight to local courts.

In March, State Representative A.B. Franklin filed a complaint with the U.S. Justice Department in Washington D.C. It challenged the decision by the majority of the nine State District Judges here to designate Division H, Judge Ron Ware's district, for family and juvenile court.

Franklin believes it may have violated the Voting Rights Act since the change was not pre-cleared with the U.S. Justice Department. A related issue surfaced in connection with the Moss Bluff area drainage case involving three former employees facing criminal charges.

The alleged wrongdoing involves allegations that public resources and employees were used for private gain. Brian Benoit who was the superintendent, faces multiple courts of malfeasance in office, public payroll fraud and other charges. Employee Gerald Jones was also indicted for multiple courts of malfeasance as was Dana Aucoin.

The men and their attorneys were in court to challenge the re-allotment of their cases from Ware in Division H to another, in this case Division B, Judge Clayton Davis.

Defense attorney Sam Jones says cases previously allotted should not be moved. "Once a case is randomly allotted to a division it stays there unless there's an agreement among all parties. That means the state, the defense, the relinquishing judge and the receiving judge. That wasn't done in this case.  They just transferred them without notice, without a hearing and certainly without our consent."

Davis denied a motion to move the drainage cases back to Ware's court. The drainage defendants will appeal to the Third Circuit. It's not clear whether more federal oversight may come. Says Jones, "Certainly I think I think the Justice Department has federal oversight in this matter and on those type of cases."

Now whether they exercise it in this case remains to be seen. As it stands Division H handles family and juvenile court and civil cases. No word from justice officials in Washington D.C. on their response to the complaint filed by A.B. Franklin. We will update you if we hear back from officials there.