NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana’s Supreme Court voted to censure one of its own Wednesday, saying a conversation that longtime Justice Jefferson Hughes held with a political operative during a 2019 campaign for a seat on the court harmed public confidence in the judiciary.
Hughes consented to the disciplinary action, according to the opinion and decree, which also calls for him to pay more than $2,000 to the state judiciary commission to cover costs in the investigation.
At issue was a meeting Hughes had with former Hammond council member Johnny Blount, who was supporting appellate court Judge William Crain, in a run for an open court seat in 2019, which Crain later won. Hughes denied an allegation that he offered $5,000 to a former Hammond official to persuade him to switch his support to Crain’s opponent, Judge Hans Liljeberg, and Wednesday’s opinion says that accusation is “unsubstantiated.”
But Hughes accepted a finding that “this discussion left Mr. Blount with the impression that respondent was attempting to change Mr. Blount’s support from Judge Crain to Judge Liljeberg.”
The ruling said Hughes violated multiple judicial canons, including a prohibition on partisan political activity and that his conduct “and subsequent events flowing from it … and brought the judiciary into disrepute” when Blount took the allegations to The Times-Picayune ‘ The New Orleans Advocate.
Hughes and Crain both were recused in the matter. The five other members of the court split 4-1 on the ruling. Chief Justice John Weimer dissented, saying the court should have held a public hearing on the case.
Wednesday’s ruling said the case against Hughes was mitigated by several factors: Hughes didn’t engage in a pattern of misconduct; the conduct didn’t occur in a courtroom; Hughes was not acting in his official capacity and he cooperated fully in the judiciary commission’s probe.
Hughes was elected to the Supreme Court in 2012. He was re-elected six years later.