A recusal order signed by Fifth Judicial District Court Judge Terry Doughty in an April 2015 lawsuit involving the judge’s former business partners suggests Doughty contradicted himself when pressured to recuse himself from another lawsuit involving the couple, court documents and testimony show.
Court documents uncovered by The Franklin Sun this week revealed Doughty briefly presided in early 2015 over a lawsuit filed by Delhi tax preparer David Stephens and his then-girlfriend, Michelle Ogden, both of whom were listed in state records as Doughty’s business partners.
Stephens and Ogden filed a lawsuit against their neighbors on April 21, 2015, asking the court to enforce a restraining order to keep their neighbors from harassing or making contact with them, especially Ogden’s two children. Stephens and Ogden’s lawsuit appears to have stemmed from a dispute over ownership of a shared driveway. Stephens and Ogden were not yet married at the time of the lawsuit, though they lived together.
Doughty recused himself from David Stephens, Michelle Ogden on behalf of her minor children v. Ronald Davis and Bernadette Cahill, citing his business relationship with Stephens and Ogden.
“IT IS ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that due to the fact that the Court was in a business relationship with the petitioners, and on Motion made by the defendants in this case for recusal, IT IS ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that Division ‘A’ is recused in this matter and that the Clerk’s office draw randomly for assigning of another division in the Fifth Judicial District Court,” stated Doughty’s recusal order.
After a review of the Stephens v. Davis file, The Sun could not locate the defendants’ motion for recusal which Doughty referred to in his May 12, 2015 recusal order.
The business mentioned in Doughty’s recusal order was Hot Flash Monogramming LLC. Stephens and Doughty launched the company in February 2014, according to state records. Ogden and Doughty’s ex-wife, Annie Morace, also were members of the company.
Last month, Doughty took the witness stand in a hearing about whether to recuse him from an October 2014 lawsuit by local farmers claiming local financial institutions breached a credit agreement. During the hearing, Doughty said he could not have told anyone the name of Ogden’s husband until earlier this year when the couple’s relationship with Doughty came under scrutiny.
The recusal order in Stephens v. Davis contradicts the position later struck by Doughty in an October 2015 hazardous waste lawsuit in which Stephens was named a defendant. In David Dewayne Stowe Sr. and others v. Donald Slade Jordan and others, plaintiffs claimed the defendants conspired to intentionally harm them by failing to train them on how to handle hazardous waste at a job site in Texas. In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs also accused Stephens of manufacturing invoices and extra accounting fees among other accusations.
In Stephens v. Davis, Doughty ruled that his former business relationship with Stephens was sufficient grounds to recuse when Stephens was the plaintiff. He did not reach the same conclusion Stowe v. Jordan when Stephens was a defendant.
Doughty presided over the Stowe v. Jordan case but did not disclose his former business relationship with Stephens until February 2017, some 15 months after he was first assigned the case. As part of that disclosure on Feb. 2, Doughty sent a letter to attorneys involved in the case, asking whether any of the attorneys had any objections to his continued role presiding over Stowe v. Jordan.
Sedric Banks, a Monroe attorney representing the plaintiffs in Stowe v. Jordan, filed a motion to recuse Doughty on the basis of the judge’s former business relationship with Stephens. Banks also pointed out that Doughty did not disclose the relationship until days before a hearing scheduled to hear Stephens’ motion to sanction or penalize Banks. Stephens wants the court to sanction Banks because the attorney disclosed Stephens’ criminal record, which included charges of theft and forgery involving financial crimes in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court. In 2004, Stephens pleaded guilty to one count of theft over $500, though his record was expunged in 2006.
In March, Doughty recused from Stowe v. Jordan, stating his personal relationship with Ogden was the only reason warranting his recusal. Doughty took that position in spite of previously recusing in Stephens v. Davis because of his former business relationship with Stephens.
“Although there are no legal grounds for recusal in this case as to the defendant David Stephens, this Court is aware that Michelle Ogden and David Stephens were married sometime during 2016,” Doughty wrote in his March 23 recusal order. “This Court has been a friend of Michelle Ogden for several years.”
Doughty’s relationship with Stephens and Ogden surfaced again in Banks’ motion to recuse Doughty from KT Farms and others v. Citizens’ Progressive Bank and others in Franklin Parish — the lawsuit involving the alleged breach of a credit agreement. A hearing was held May 3 to hear sworn testimony from Doughty, Stephens and Ogden.
During the May 3 hearing, Doughty diminished the extent of his relationship with Stephens, as he did in his March 23 recusal order in Stowe v. Jordan. When questioned by Banks about the business relationship, Doughty declined to describe himself as a co-manager of Hot Flash Monogramming LLC until Banks showed him state records indicating as much.
“Okay. You served as a co-manager of the business with him?” Banks said.
“I wouldn’t put it that way. No, I was — I was a manager on an LLC that my former wife and — his girlfriend bought an embroidery machine, that’s what it was,” Doughty said.
“Yes, sir. Well, let me ask it this way. Do you know whether or not there was any documents filed with the Secretary of State that showed you and Mr. Stephens as co-managers of an LLC?” Banks said.
“I don’t know. I was a manager, I knew I was on the LLC with a 25 percent interest but I don’t know if I was a co-manager or not, I didn’t have any involvement in it,” Doughty said.
Later, Doughty suggested he failed to disclose his relationship with Stephens and Ogden because he knew several individuals named “David Stephens” and was unsure whether Ogden’s husband was the same person as the “David Stephens” defendant in Stowe v. Jordan.
“Would we agree, sir, that you waited 14 months before you decided to disclose your business relationship with Mr. Stephens?” Banks said.
“In answering that question, it was 14 months before I realized this was the Mr. Stephens I was involved in that relationship with, I did disclose it February the 2nd of 2017,” Doughty said.
Doughty said he knew that Fifth Judicial District Court Judge James “Jimbo” Stephens’ son also was named “David Stephens.” (Jimbo Stephens, the court’s chief judge, presided over Doughty’s May 3 recusal hearing in the KT Farms lawsuit, in spite of Jimbo Stephens’ ownership of stock in Caldwell Holding Co., the parent company of two of the banks being sued in that lawsuit.)
“Wait, stop right there. Did you think of any stretch of the imagination that Judge Stephens’ son was a defendant in your court?” Banks said.
“No,” Doughty said.
“Okay. Well, what other David Stephens do you know?”
In reply, Doughty distanced himself further from David Stephens, claiming not to have known his former business partner’s name before his role in Stowe v. Jordan was challenged.
“I mean I’ve heard some of them — some other ones, but honestly I didn’t — you know, I wasn’t just examining every one to see if that was a David Stephens I know, I — to be honest with you, I didn’t know of one, I couldn’t remember his name, if you’d have asked me before all of this started what was Michelle Ogden’s husband’s name, I couldn’t have even told you what his name was,” Doughty said.
During testimony, Doughty again defended his decision to recuse from Stowe v. Jordan solely because of his personal relationship with Ogden, not because of his former business relationship with David Stephens and Ogden. Doughty went so far as to say he did not know David Stephens and Ogden were married when he disclosed his relationship with them earlier this year, though his recusal order in the Stephens v. Davis case indicated he was aware the couple was living together in early 2015.
“That’s the only grounds I recused on,” Doughty said.
“Okay. And what were those grounds?” Banks said.
“Because I had been a friend of Michelle Ogden, who I found out had married Mr. Stephens,” Doughty said.
Doughty elaborated: “I recused myself because I’d been a friend of Ms. Michelle Ogden for several years and because my former wife worked with her doing monogramming or other activities at that business.”
“Okay. And when did you make that revelation?” Banks said.
“Well, after — after you’d filed a motion to recuse I looked to see if they’d been married and I found out they’d been married, so I disclosed that, I didn’t know they were married,” Doughty said.
Later during the May 3 hearing, David Stephens was called to the stand and sworn in. He said the last time he saw Doughty prior to that day in court was “some time in ‘15,” guessing he might have seen the judge at a football game. The pair did not speak at that time, though, David Stephens said.
In court filings in Stowe v. Jordan, Banks has argued the extent of Doughty’s relationship with David Stephens was shown on Facebook. That subject surfaced again during the May 3 hearing.
“Are you and your wife on his (Doughty’s) Facebook page?” Banks said.
“I am not,” David Stephens said.
“Okay. Were you on his Facebook page?” Banks said.
“Irrelevant. I mean what is the relevance of me being on his Facebook page?” David Stephens said.
“Mr. Stephens, you have to answer the questions,” said Jimbo Stephens, speaking for the court.
“Right now, no,” David Stephens said.
“Okay. And when did that post of your pictures come off of Judge Doughty’s page?” Banks said.
“Post of my pictures on Judge Doughty’s page? I don’t really know,” David Stephens said.
“Who took them off?” Banks said.
“I don’t really know,” David Stephens said.
“Well, how do you know they’re not on there?” Banks said.
“I mean I don’t see any posts from Judge Doughty anymore but I’m not on Facebook a ton,” David Stephens said.
“Okay. Is it your testimony that you didn’t take them off?” Banks said.
“I guess that would be correct,” David Stephens said.
David Stephens also was asked about his familiarity with U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham’s efforts to have Doughty appointed to a federal judgeship. David Stephens said he was unaware of that process, though he later clarified his earlier statements and said he had heard talk of it at his workplace.
The appointment of any candidate to U.S. District Court will be made by President Donald Trump. The president may base his decision on recommendations of U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, since the U.S. Senate must finally sign off on whoever is nominated to the federal bench.