Fifth Judicial District Court Judge Terry Doughty, who is being groomed by U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham's office for a possible appointment to the U.S. District Court bench, also is presiding over a case directly affecting the congressman's family and finances.
The case in question is a 2014 lawsuit, KT Farms and others v. Citizens Progressive Bank and others, in which a number of farmers claimed Citizens Progressive Bank of Columbia breached a crop loan agreement with some $5 million at stake. Citizens Progressive Bank's parent company, Caldwell Bank & Trust Co., as well as Commercial Capital Bank of Delhi participated in the loan. Commercial Capital Bank was later named a defendant through a third-party demand.
Abraham's son-in-law is a member of the board of directors at Citizens Progressive Bank. The congressman is a minority shareholder at Commercial Capital Bank's parent company, as learned through a review of public records by The Franklin Sun, a Winnsboro newspaper and sister publication of The Ouachita Citizen.
Abraham owns stock in Capital Bancorp Inc., the parent company of Commercial Capital Bank. The value of Abraham's stock in Capital Bancorp Inc. ranged from $15,001 to $50,000 with annual income through dividends and interest at $2,501 to $5,000, according to Abraham's financial disclosure statements submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives for 2014 and 2015. Abraham’s financial disclosure report has not been filed for 2016, though Cole Avery, a spokesman for Abraham, confirmed Tuesday the congressman still owned stock in Capital Bancorp Inc.
Meanwhile, Doughty was cleared last month to continue presiding over the KT Farms lawsuit by Fifth Judicial District Court Judge James “Jimbo” Stephens after a recusal motion was filed, questioning Doughty's ability to be fair and impartial.
While Doughty remains in a position to make decisions impacting Abraham's family and financial interests, he also has been in communication with Abraham's chief of staff, Luke Letlow, of Start, about his chances of becoming a U.S. District Court judge.
Doughty's communications with Letlow became the subject of questions at a hearing last month at the Franklin Parish Courthouse in Winnsboro. Doughty was issued a subpoena by Sedric Banks, a Monroe attorney representing the plaintiffs in the KT Farms lawsuit. The subpoena calling Doughty to testify was the first public mention that he might be vetted as a nominee to the federal court.
Doughty took the stand and confirmed through testimony that he had talked about his aspirations to become a U.S. District Court judge – on several occasions – with Letlow. According to Doughty, he and Letlow discussed whether recent news reports would diminish his chances of becoming a federal court nominee.
The path to becoming a federal court judge requires a nomination from the president of the United States. The president would base his nomination on recommendations by U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, though it is highly possible a congressman such as Abraham could have some influence on Cassidy and Kennedy's discussions.
When Banks, the plaintiffs' attorney, asked Doughty whether the judge had any “relationships with any of the banks' board directors,” several of the defendants attorneys objected to the question. Stephens, the judge, sustained the objections. The Franklin Sun has since learned that Doughty's wife, Jan Doughty, was previously married to the late John “Johnny” Morris Jr. Johnny Morris was a first cousin to Dustin Morris’ father. Dustin Morris is on the board of directors at Citizens Progressive Bank (a defendant in the KT Farms lawsuit).
Abraham also has a family tie to the bank director since Dustin Morris is the congressman's son-in-law. He married Abraham's daughter, Ashley.
Abraham was offered an opportunity to comment on whether his office’s involvement in Doughty possibly becoming a U.S. District Court judge was tied to his personal interests – both to his family and their financial connections to Citizens Progressive Bank and Commercial Capital Bank. Avery responded to the inquiries, on behalf of Abraham.
“The congressman has no involvement in any cases involving Terry Doughty, and his knowledge of any such pending cases are based entirely on what’s been reported by the press,” Avery wrote. “Further, as a congressman, Dr. Abraham has no authority to nominate anybody to a federal judgeship; that power rests with the Senate and the President.”
Other testimony last month revealed that Doughty's chances of becoming a federal judge may have been of interest to the chairman of Commercial Capital Bank's board of directors. Lawrence “Larry” Pickett is a certified public accountant who operates a CPA firm in Delhi. He also is the chairman of the bank's board of directors.
During Doughty's recusal hearing, Delhi tax preparer David Stephens was issued a subpoena to testify. Stephens works with Pickett at “Pickett & Co., Larry Pickett, CPA.”
When asked whether he had been approached by anyone about a possible nomination of Doughty to U.S. District Court, David Stephens said, “I don't know anything about that.”
Later, David Stephens clarified his earlier statement and said he could not rule out having heard anything about Doughty's possible appointment to the federal bench from “anyone” since he may have heard the matter discussed at his workplace with Pickett.
David Stephens is a defendant in another case – David Dewayne Stowe Sr. and others v. Donald Slade Jordan and others – in Richland Parish from which Doughty previously recused, after failing to disclose – for some 14 months – his past business relationship with David Stephens and his personal relationship with David Stephens' wife, Michelle.
David Stephens, Pickett, Caldwell Bank & Trust Co., and Commercial Capital Bank among others also are being sued in other lawsuits related to several farming operations run by Delhi farmer Thomas “Tommy” Dickerson, which involve allegations of more than $30 million found missing in mortgaged crops, crops placed in U.S. Department of Agriculture loan programs, an allegedly forged $500,000 tax refund check from the U.S. Department of Treasury, among other accusations.
The lawsuits against Dickerson and others are being pursued in both Fifth Judicial District Court and in the U.S. District Court for the Western District.