The recusal of yet another judge in Fifth Judicial District Court is being sought by a plaintiffs attorney in a controversial lawsuit against area banks.
The Fifth Judicial District includes the parishes of Franklin, Richland and West Carroll.
Judge Terry Doughty and Chief Judge James “Jimbo” Stephens, both of whom serve at district court, previously withdrew to the sidelines in the 2014 lawsuit KT Farms and others v. Citizens Progressive Bank and others, following a spate of accusations lobbed at them by Monroe attorney Sedric Banks.
Last month, Banks filed a new motion to recuse Judge Steve Dean from his clients’ case. Dean is the third and only locally available judge in the judicial district. Instead of Dean, Banks wants the state Supreme Court to appoint an ad hoc judge to preside over the KT Farms lawsuit, which is an outcome sought by Banks when he first filed recusal motions against Doughty and Stephens earlier this year.
The KT Farms lawsuit involves allegations that banks breached credit agreements with a group of local farmers, who are seeking at least $4 million in damages.
Since earlier this year, almost all developments in the case departed from the lawsuit’s core allegations and have detoured into Banks’ efforts to recuse judges presiding over the case. Counsel for defendant banks have asked that sanctions be levied against Banks while judges Doughty and Stephens filed ethics complaints against Banks with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
Banks claims Doughty and Stephens made false statements about him in their ethics complaints, while both judges also have argued Banks has falsely accused them in documents he filed with the court.
Facing a new barrage of accusations from Banks, Doughty and Stephens withdrew from the KT Farms lawsuit and reassigned it to Dean on June 21. In spite of Doughty and Stephens’ withdrawal from the case, Banks’ July 20 motion to recuse Dean indicated he still sought to argue in court why Doughty and Stephens should be officially recused.
“Moreover, on or about June 27, 2017, plaintiffs' counsel telephoned Judge Steve Dean's office and inquired of staff as to a possible hearing date, court availability and the status of Judge Stephens' order that Judge Dean hear and decide plaintiffs' motion to recuse Judge Doughty,” stated Banks’ July 20 recusal motion. “During such telephone conference, Plaintiffs were advised that Judge Dean '...would issue an order on how to proceed...' No such order came.”
Banks’ July 20 recusal motion also accused Dean of conducting ex-parte communications with attorneys for defendants. Banks’ clients learned of the alleged ex-parte communications while trying to meet with Dean at his office.
“On July 7, plaintiffs' representative, Kyle Aymond, visited Judge Dean's office in hopes that instructions on 'how to proceed' might be available,” continued Banks’ July 20 motion. “Such visit came after Kyle Aymond was queried on the status of recusal by his plaintiff father, William 'Billy' Aymond, who is eighty-six years old and entitled to statutory preference and priority in trial fixing.
“Kyle Aymond was advised that Judge Dean was not coming in that day, either. However, Kyle Aymond was advised that Judge Dean '...is currently contacting the other (side's) attorneys in order to see if there is a reason he should recuse, and to be assured that what happened to the other two judges won't happen here, and after that, he will hold a hearing on plaintiffs' motion to recuse Judge Doughty...' Plaintiffs counsel has never been told of any such meeting, nor has any hearing been fixed. Announcement of an ex-parte communication constitutes both statutory and constitutional grounds for recusing Judge Dean in the instant case.”
If granted a new recusal hearing, Banks claimed he could produce new evidence showing judicial misconduct on the part of Doughty and Stephens.
As of Tuesday, Aug. 15, Banks’ July 20 motion to recuse Dean was still in the judge’s office, awaiting action, according to the Franklin Parish Clerk of Court.
Meanwhile, Doughty doubled down on his position that Banks was continuing to violate the state’s Rules of Professional Conduct, which is a rulebook for attorneys in the state. Specifically, Banks was out of line for continuing to falsely accuse him and Stephens, Doughty wrote in a second complaint to ODC.
“Mr. Banks has continued to assert false allegations against both myself and Judge James M. Stephens that are frivolous with no basis in law or fact, making statements in pleadings that he knows were false and made with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the integrity of a judge, and upon making extra judicial statements and giving information to the media that Mr. Banks knows or has reasonable basis to know would be disseminated by means of public communication,” wrote Doughty in his supplemental ODC complaint, filed June 29.
Doughty asked ODC to place Banks on immediate interim suspension. Doughty also repeated false claims that The Franklin Sun and its sister newspaper, The Ouachita Citizen in West Monroe, were operating under Banks’ influence and reporting on local cases, such as the KT Farms lawsuit, under directions from Banks.
“I believe that all of the allegations made by Mr. Banks against me were frivolous with no basis of law or in fact and that they were made by Mr. Banks knowing they were false and were made with reckless disregard for its truth or falsity concerning the integrity of a judge,” Doughty wrote. “I believe that Mr. Banks is involved in making sure that these articles are printed in The Franklin Sun and The Ouachita Citizen and is involved in a pattern to recuse judges that rule against him.”
Sam Hanna Jr., owner and publisher of The Ouachita Citizen and co-owner of The Franklin Sun, recently responded to Doughty and Stephens’ accusations that the newspapers’ reporting was controlled by Banks.
“The baseless allegations made by Judge Doughty and Judge Stephens are nothing more than an attack on the role of the press, its independence, vibrancy, and aggressiveness,” Hanna wrote in a July 7 letter to ODC. “In short, Judge Doughty’s and Judge Stephens’ complaints, allegations, and machinations are nothing more than public officials acting under the color of the law attempting to ‘chill’ the press, my reporters, my newspapers, and myself. Their efforts are intended to intimidate so that the process of judicial administration is not considered news. In short, the message is simple: The courts are off limits to reporters because the public has no right to know what ‘we’ judges are doing.”
Banks’ July 20 recusal motion, which includes Doughty’s second ODC complaint, as well as Hanna’s letter to the ODC are available online at HYPERLINK "http://www.franklinsun.com/"www.franklinsun.com and www.ouachitacitizen.com
Doughty, who was recently nominated by the president for a lifetime judgeship in U.S. District Court for the Western District, rejected Banks’ arguments that Doughty’s nomination resulted from an agreement with U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham to protect Commercial Capital Bank from damages, which is a defendant in the KT Farms lawsuit.
“Additionally, Mr. Banks alleged that since U.S. Representative Ralph Abraham has recommended me for the federal judgeship of the Western District of Louisiana, Monroe Division, and owns stock in Commercial Capital Bank, that there is the potential that Representative Abraham will give me the federal judgeship in exchange for a favorable ruling,” Doughty wrote. “This is absolutely false, ridiculous and made with reckless disregard as to his truth or falsity concerning the integrity of a judge, in addition to a U.S. Representative.”