When 19th Judicial District Court Judge Tim Kelley presided over a hearing earlier this week involving the state’s Small Rental Property Program, did he violate Louisiana’s so-called “gold standard of ethics” instituted by former Gov. Bobby Jindal or worse, the Code of Judicial Conduct?
Kelley, over the objections of defendant Tony Pelicano, Monday ruled in favor of the state’s motion to dismiss “without prejudice” its foreclosure proceedings on Pelicano’s Metairie rental property. https://www.road2la.org/SRPP/Default.aspx
Dismissing without prejudice means the state may renew its foreclosure efforts at any time. Pelicano attorney Jill Craft wanted the case dismissed “with prejudice,” which would mean the matter would have been over and done.
With Kelley’s ruling, the state continues to hold the potential forfeiture of his property over Pelicano’s head for years—all because Pelicano, himself a contractor, had no say in which contractor rebuilt his rent home after Hurricane Katrina. Pelicano refused to accept the work which was done with what he says were inferior materials that did not meet specifications and which is now rotting and molding.
Even though cases in the 19th JDC are assigned to judges by lot, perhaps it would have been prudent for Kelley to have handed Pelicano’s case off to another of the seven judges who preside over civil cases.
Kelley’s wife is Angele Davis.
Angele Davis was Commissioner of Administration which oversaw the Small Rental Program through the Louisiana Office of Community Development (OCD).
Davis served as Commissioner of Administration under Bobby Jindal from January 2007 until August 2010. The Division of Administration (DOA) was responsible for the Road Home Program through OCD. Paul Rainwater was Jindal’s first OCD Executive Director until he succeeded Davis as Commissioner of Administration in 2010. http://www.doa.la.gov/comm/PressReleases/CommAnnounce.htm
Even though Davis no longer serves in state government, the fact that the Small Rent Program was administered by her office through OCD, the propriety of Kelley’s presiding over legal disputes involving the program could be brought into question.
Craft argued passionately against the dismissal without prejudice, saying, “I don’t file lawsuits just to come back and say, ‘Just kidding.’ The state shouldn’t be given the opportunity to come back at some later date for another bite.”
Kelley did throw Pelicano a bone of sorts when he ruled against the state and allowed a trial by jury—before agreeing to the dismissal without prejudice. The jury trial ruling was basically meaningless in light of the subsequent dismissal without prejudice, however.
Following Kelley’s ruling and after he had left the courtroom, Pelicano had a brief emotional outburst, yelling to DOA attorney Lesia Batiste that the state could take the property. “I’ve had it!” he shouted. “Just take it!”
It’s not as if Kelley had no way of knowing of his wife’s involvement with the program; her name is all over official documents dealing with all the Road Home programs set up to help the state recover from Hurricanes, Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike.
All this is not to say Kelley allowed his position to be used to favor the state because of his wife’s involvement with the programs. He did, after all, rule against the state in other cases that came before him, notably the infamous CNSI debacle. http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/louisiana-court-give-contractor-records-about-cancellation/article/2546170/comments
But he also inexplicably ruled in favor of the Jindal administration against the public’s right to know in a major public records lawsuit in 2013 involving applications for the LSU presidency. http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/article_f69f910d-0f80-5ddd-8d9d-06316e5ffa43.html
In a political atmosphere where perception is everything and in a state with as sordid a reputation for corruption as Louisiana, Kelley should have punted as soon as this case landed on his desk.
Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct says, in part:
A judge shall not allow family, social, political, or other relationships to influence judicial conduct or judgment.