Judge Disciplined for Sending Ex Parte Facebook Messages to Party in Case Pending Before Him

The Louisiana Supreme Court suspended a Denham Springs judge for four months for engaging in ex parte communications via Facebook Messenger with a party in a case pending before him regarding the case. In re: Judge Jerry L. Denton, Jr., 2021-O-01801 (La. 3/25/22), (Weimer, C.J.) (Crichton, J., dissents and assigns reasons; Genovese, J., dissents and assigns reasons; McCallum, J., dissents and assigns reasons).

The parties stipulated that Judge Denton’s conduct violated Canons 1, 2A, and 3A(6) and specified portions of 3A(4) and 3C of the Louisiana Code of Judicial Conduct (1996). Additionally, the Louisiana Supreme Court concluded that Judge Denton violated Canon 3(A)(4) in that in the performance of his judicial duties, his words manifested bias, and he engaged in “willful misconduct relating to official duties” in violation of La. Const. art. V, § 25(C) (1974).

Both Judge Denton and the Judiciary Commission agreed that the appropriate sanction for the misconduct should include a suspension. But the parties disagreed as to the duration of the suspension.  The Commission recommended a six-month suspension. The Office of Special Counsel and Judge Denton had previously agreed to a sixty-day suspension without pay. A majority of the Court rejected the proposed sanctions:

In light of the totality of Judge Denton’s misconduct, and in an effort to protect the public and the public’s confidence in the judiciary, we find the sanction in this case of a four-month suspension from office, without pay, would serve the purposes of the disciplinary system. Additionally, we accept the Commission’s recommendation that Judge Denton be ordered to reimburse and pay to the Commission $4,676.25 in costs.

Justice Crichton, Justice Genovese, and Justice McCallum dissented and would have accepted the Judiciary Commission’s recommendation of a six-month suspension.

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