Judge Canaday hearing set before Judiciary Commission Friday

14th Judicial District Court Judge Michael Canaday
14th Judicial District Court Judge Michael Canaday(14th JDC)
Published: Mar. 23, 2023 at 6:32 PM CDT
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - Calcasieu Court Judge Michael Canaday has a hearing before the Judiciary Commission Friday revolving around a case in which he released files to the prosecution that may have given away defense strategy without consulting with the defense, according to court documents.

The Office of Special Counsel recommends Canaday be publicly censured and ordered to reimburse the commission the $1,000 incurred in the investigation and prosecution of the case.

The case also involves messages between Canaday and a member of the Calcasieu District Attorney’s Office staff in the second-degree murder case of Dennis Jerome Bartie.

Bartie is accused of killing Rose Born in her doughnut shop in 1988. The case was considered cold until Bartie was arrested in 2016. Bartie is currently in prison serving time for attempted second-degree murder, in a separate case.

Canaday presided over multiple hearings in the case to decide whether Bartie should receive state funds or had the means to fund his own defense, ultimately denying indigency and denying funds for experts.

Because they contained defense strategy, the hearings with the defense were closed to the Calcasieu District Attorney’s Office and the transcripts of the hearings were sealed.

The defense was allowed to see transcripts of the hearings, though.

But when defense attorneys realized they were missing one last transcript and filed a motion requesting it, Canaday granted the request and added in his own handwriting that the transcript should be released from seal.

Canaday was then emailed by a member of the district attorney’s staff seeking clarification whether the order applied to the D.A.’s Office access to the transcripts. Defense attorneys were not copied on the email.

The staff member then sent a text message to Canaday telling him they had just sent the email.

Canaday responded by text: “Since I don’t believe the state could appeal my granting relief to the defense on funding, I don’t think they can support the courts position to deny. The court reasons will be sufficient for the 3rd (Circuit Court of Appeal) to review. If the 3rd requests a states response obviously they could access the record.” Again, defense attorneys were not included in the communications.

When the D.A.’s employee sent another email a little more than two weeks later, attaching a copy of the Third Circuit’s ruling reversing the order, Canaday replied, “If the state wants to take (the indigency ruling) up to the Supreme Court, I will unseal the record. GMC.” Again, defense attorneys were not copied on the email.

“This statement constituted a commitment to take a particular action on a motion that was not yet filed,” the Judiciary Commission’s Notice of Hearing reads.

Two weeks later, on Sept. 30, 2019, the D.A’s Office filed a motion to unseal all documents and transcripts in the indigency hearings. Canaday granted the motion the same day without holding a hearing or allowing the defense counsel an opportunity to respond, although the motion was not filed as unopposed.

“This relief, without any hearing or opportunity to respond from defense counsel, was not authorized by any law, rule, case or statute,” the Notice of Hearing reads.

After the Sept. 30 ruling, Canaday was recused from the case, the defense arguing Canaday had issued multiple rulings in favor of the prosecution which appellate courts later reversed. The recusal was upheld by both the Third Circuit and the state Supreme Court.

In a response to charges set before him, Canaday denied any willful or intentional misconduct, but “admits that certain of his actions in this matter fell below the standards which he set for his conduct and which are required of him as judge.”

Canaday also said while he works to “diligently” to meet the high standards demanded of judges, he “nevertheless admits that in this matter he did not meet the standards required of him.”

The Office of Special Counsel noted Canaday has made significant modifications to his practices and procedures concerning communication with prosecutors and others, and did so prior to the Notice of Hearing.

Canaday has one previous caution by the Judiciary Commission - for denying the fundamental rights of an incarcerated defendant awaiting his writing privileges when there existed no basis under the law to do so.