Louisiana justice sues colleagues for requiring his recusal

Louisiana Supreme Court seal

A justice on the Louisiana Supreme Court has sued four fellow justices who ordered his recusal in two pending environmental cases, apparently because of PAC donations by lawyers for the plaintiffs.

Justice Jeff Hughes filed the federal lawsuit (PDF) on Dec. 30. He alleges a First Amendment violation and seeks an injunction allowing him to hear the cases, the Advocate reports.

The four justices who required Hughes’ recusal did not provide written reasons for their decision, but they were acting on motions by the corporate defendants in the environmental cases. Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll was also removed, and wrote a “blistering” dissent (PDF) to the recusal order, the Advocate reports. “This motion reflects only this special interest group’s aggressive efforts at judge-shopping as there exists no legitimate grounds for my recusal,” Knoll wrote.

The remaining justices voted 4-1 to not take up the plaintiffs’ cases.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers contributed to a clean water political action committee that supported Hughes’ candidacy 11 days before the primary. The lawyers and their law firm contributed $360,000 to the PAC, which endorsed Hughes and then spent $487,000 in independent expenditures to support his campaign. Hughes, a first term justice, was elected to the state supreme court with 52.83 percent of the vote in December 2012, the Times-Picayune reported at the time. He previously served on the state’s First Circuit Court of Appeals.

Hughes’ suit says those contributions differ from those found to require recusal in the U.S. Supreme Court decision Caperton v. Massey, which involved a coal executive who contributed more than $3 million to help elect a state justice.

Hughes says the PAC expenditures on behalf of Hughes accounted for only 16 percent of all campaign spending in his judicial district race, and multiple persons and law firms contributed to the PAC. “By forcing Justice Hughes’ recusal based on certain contributions made to the clean water PAC,” the suit says, the four justices “have in effect limited the amount a person can contribute to a political action committee, in violation of the First Amendment.”

The suit also claims the recusal order violates Hughes’ First Amendment rights by penalizing him “for communicating his electoral message to persons who contributed to the clean water PAC.”

Hat tip: How Appealing.

Updated at 1:09 p.m. to add links to Hughes’ suit and information about Knoll’s dissent.

We welcome your comments, but please adhere to our comment policy and the ABA Code of Conduct.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.