by Yasmin Garaad
Former 23rd Judicial District Judge Jessie LeBlanc, who was caught sending racist texts to ex-lover and former Assumption Parish Chief Deputy Bruce Prejean, resigned on Feb. 27.
The Louisiana Supreme Court recently appointed retired St. Charles Parish Judge Emile R. St. Pierre to fill the remainder of LeBlanc’s term. And at least 600 of LeBlanc’s cases are under review, according to 23rd Judicial District Attorney Ricky Babin.
After apologizing for her use of the “n” word, but initially refusing to step down, LeBlanc ultimately resigned after protests and calls for her to do so, including ones made by Gov. John Bel Edwards along with the Louisiana and Baton Rouge chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Gov. Edwards, the NAACP and many others were right, LeBlanc needed to go. But let’s be careful of the knee-jerk reaction to find comfort or even victory in LeBlanc’s resignation. LeBlanc has resigned, but there are others whose hidden biases and bigotry have not come to light and who remain a part of the judicial system. In fact, LeBlanc would still be sitting on the bench, in a position of power – had she not been caught using the “n” word.
“Despite its existence, racism has no role in our criminal legal system,” says William C. Snowden, former felony trial attorney and founder of The Juror Project. “When a judge who has exhibited racist behavior simply apologizes, that is not enough to cure any harm that may have resulted through the racist lens in which that judge viewed the people and cases before them.”
Snowden continues, “Judges with racial bias, both explicit and implicit, contribute to a flawed judicial system at every point that judge utilizes their discretion. Whether it be through considering the alleged dangerousness of someone during a bail hearing or at sentencing during the end of a case. The way we see each other is the way we treat each other, and if a judge sees the people who are brought before them on unequal footing as compared to others, that judge is not ethically or morally fit to wear that robe and hold that power.”
One of the clearest signs of racial disparities in the criminal justice system is reflected in the prison population. According to the NAACP, Blacks and Hispanics make up 32 percent of the US population, yet they comprise 56 percent of all incarcerated people.
Alanah Odoms Hebert, ACLU of Louisiana executive director, says: “Judge LeBlanc’s racist comments are a reminder of the systemic racism that pervades all levels of our criminal legal system. Judge LeBlanc has resigned and her racist comments have been widely condemned, but truly addressing this injustice demands action, not merely words. The people who went before this racist judge need to have the opportunity to be seen and heard by a fair tribunal.”