Judges sued by a colleague are using $ 170,000 in court funds to pay private lawyers – but is it legal? | Courts

A Baton Rouge Criminal Court judge who is suing 14 of his colleagues and three former judges for the purpose of using his seniority to gain access to the civil judiciary is challenging their use of court funds to pay their legal bills.

State District Judge Beau Higginbotham revealed in a recent court filing that most of his fellow judges from the 19th Judicial District Court voted in October to use funds from the Judicial Expenditure Fund to hire and pay private lawyers.

The minutes of this full meeting of judges on October 27 are attached to the record and indicate that 11 of the 19th JDC judges voted to allocate $ 10,000 of the JEF to each judge and former judge named as defendants in the trial to pay their fees. legal invoices. Higginbotham abstained.

That’s a total of $ 170,000.

Higginbotham and his lawyer, sister Whitney Higginbotham Greene, question this arrangement and ask a retired judge appointed by the State Supreme Court to hear the case, or the High Court itself to examine the case.

“The Complainant seeks guidance on how to manage the expenditure of judicial resources and government money which may not comply with LSA RS 13: 992 as these disbursements are not made to improve the function of the tribunal.” Greene writes in his brother’s Third Amendment and Supplement. petition.

The 19th JDC Judicial Expenditure Fund is enshrined in this state law.

Higginbotham initially only sued East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk Doug Welborn in December 2020, complaining about the clerk’s refusal to assign him civil cases after the longtime judge retired from the 19th JDC, Janice Clark, at the end of 2020.

Some of Judge Beau Higginbotham’s 19th Judicial District colleagues “completely ignored” the Baton Rouge court seniority rule and illegally …

After retired judge Emile St. Pierre told Higginbotham he had to add his 19th JDC colleagues as defendants, Higginbotham changed his lawsuit last summer and named his 14 sitting colleagues as well. as former 19th JDC judges Bonnie Jackson, Richard Anderson and Clark as defendants.

In his third amended motion, filed Jan. 3, Higginbotham and his attorney argue that it “may be appropriate” for Saint-Pierre to address the JEF issue, “or, failing that, ask the Louisiana Supreme Court to invoke their supervisory competence… to pay expenses. judicial resources and government money from the 19th JDC Judicial Expenditure Fund which does not appear to improve the function of the tribunal according to LSA RS 13: 992. “

JEF receives two-thirds of its funding from the parish city and most of the rest of court costs and fines.

State law states that judges can use the JEF to pay the salaries of their court reporters, secretaries, clerical, research, administrative, or other court personnel.

The law also states that judges can use JEF funds to pay all or part of the costs of establishing and / or maintaining a law library for the court, or to purchase or maintain any type of equipment, supplies or other compatible or relevant items. the proper functioning of the tribunal.

“In general, the judicial expenditure fund is established and can be used for any purpose or purpose connected, incidental or connected with the proper administration or function of said court or of the offices of individual judges…”, the law reads.

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Several former 19th JDC insiders have said that what the judges voted on regarding the JEF and the Higginbotham trial appears to be legal but looks bad and does not pass the odor test.

In Higginbotham’s third petition, he also says his colleagues at the 19th JDC rejected his latest request to move to the civil bench and take over the role previously held by former judge William Morvant, who retired at the end of 2021.

Higginbotham claims his colleagues ignored his length of service in court with regard to the civilian seats of Clark and Morvant “contrary to the law and their own policy / rule”.

“Allowing a 19th JDC judge to consent to move to the civil bench is not discretionary, the procedure was established and has been followed until it was Judge Higginbotham’s turn,” Greene said in the petition.

Baton Rouge State Judge Beau Higginbotham told a special judge on Monday that a majority of his colleagues at the 19th Judicial District Court were unaware of the …

She says 19th JDC judges moved between criminal court and civil court based on seniority for at least 35 to 40 years.

“Ironically, every 19th JDC judge to occupy the civil bench, past and present, has achieved it through the existence of a rule. If a rule exists, then it must be followed,” says Greene.

Greene suggested during a hearing in the case last month that the 19th JDC’s vote in December 2020 denying her brother’s request to move to the civil bench was “personal,” but she did not clarify.

Higginbotham was elected to the 19th JDC M Division seat in 2014 and then to the C Division seat closer to his home in 2019. Both seats are criminal divisions. When Clark retired at the end of 2020, Higginbotham claimed he was “next on the list” based on his length of service to move to the civil bench.

But the majority of Higginbotham’s colleagues decided he had lost his seniority in court when he changed criminal divisions and lost his right to claim Clark’s former civilian seat. Higginbotham says there was “no gap” in his field service and that he has a “legitimate claim to the civil magistracy”.

Judge Beau Higginbotham, who has sat on the Criminal Court of the 19th District Judicial Court for six years, is fighting for what he calls his “ri …

His lawsuit says that at a December 9, 2020 meeting of 19th JDC judges, he formally offered to be assigned to the civilian bench, and Morvant seconded the motion, but it was not passed. Judge Don Johnson then moved a motion to allocate the civilian spot to his twin brother, Judge Ron Johnson, and the motion was approved. Ron Johnson was elected in 2019.

Over the past year, Ron Johnson and fellow 19th JDC judge Kelly Balfour have fairly divided these civil cases while also dividing a criminal case.

Higginbotham is the son of former State First Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Toni Higginbotham and former 19th JDC Judge Leo Higginbotham.

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