The text messages came to light last week when WBRZ-2 first published a conversation LeBlanc had with Bruce Prejean, her lover and a sheriff’s deputy who has since been demoted. The two had an eight-year affair, and LeBlanc expressed anger that Prejean, who was also married to someone else, could’ve been seeing a black court clerk. She was also annoyed that Prejean might be with his friend, a black deputy whom she called a thug and the n-word multiple times in the December 2018 exchange.
Prejean showed the texts to Assumption Parrish Sheriff Leland Falcon, who shared them with the local media — a decision that provoked calls from the local NAACP and the governor of Louisiana for LeBlanc to resign, and letters sent to defendants in cases she ruled on dating back to 2012, when she was sworn in, WBRZ-2 reported.
“I know that I am not a racist,” she told WAFB-9. “I know that I treat everyone with respect. It doesn’t matter who you are.”
LeBlanc buckled to a slew of demands for her to leave her post by resigning Thursday, local outlets report.
Jill Craft, LeBlanc’s attorney, issued a statement in response to the governor’s that said her client sent the messages in private in response to a threatening situation.
“If that is now the litmus test for any public official, then every one of our public officials should be immediately held to the same standard, including private statements about race, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, sex, religion,” she wrote, calling on all other elected officials to release their private communications in the wake of LeBlanc’s scrutiny.
Personal messages or not, a level of privacy goes out the door once someone is elected to office, and most elected officials should know that before stepping into the public eye, legal ethics experts contend.
There is no law protecting messages sent by public officials, Anita Allen, a professor of law and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, said in an interview with The Washington Post.
“If you send somebody a text, the message is only as private as the person who you sent them to wants them to be,” she said.
Prejean’s actions conjure up questions of privacy and moral obligations more than legal misconduct, Allen said.
“She’s unlucky that she chose to put her trust in someone who decided he was going to reveal her information,” she said, noting that the messages are a strong example for why judges should engage in continued judicial education that reviews requirements for professional and personal behavior.
LeBlanc’s slurs in her text messages with Prejean could also appear to show bias and spark questions about previous cases she’s adjudicated, Allen said.
Ricky Babin, district attorney for the 23rd Judicial District, told WBRZ-2 that letters will be mailed to every defendant who has appeared in LeBlanc’s courtroom, informing them of her racist language.
Assumption Parish is nearly 30 percent black, according to census data.
Babin and the district’s head public defender filed a joint motion this year requesting that LeBlanc voluntarily remove herself from all criminal matters in Assumption Parish once her affair surfaced, WAFB-9 reported.
The robustness of the First Amendment and the Supreme Court’s interpretation of it has made the personal lives of public officials open to public curiosity in ways that many European countries don’t see, said Scott J. Shackelford, professor of business law and ethics at Indiana University Kelley School of Business.
“The public has the right to know pretty much everything they want,” he told The Post.
Those who enter office at any level in the United States should have an expectation for their lives to become open books, without the assumption that they will resume normal, private lives, which is common in countries such as Germany, Shackelford said.
LeBlanc hasn’t yet released a statement about her decision to resign, local outlets reported.
Her choice of words could’ve kept her in office, Allen said.
“I’m African American and a lawyer, and I have never once in my entire life used the n-word in any conversation,” she said, noting that she doesn’t use it in her home, either. “I know for a fact it’s avoidable. It’s not necessary.”