- Associated Press - Friday, June 6, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The Louisiana Supreme Court has suspended a Lafourche Parish justice of the peace for two months without pay for mishandling a claim.

The suspension affects 79-year-old Justice of the Peace Mary Foret, of Raceland. A justice of the peace is a quasi-judicial official who often presides over misdemeanor criminal cases, small claims court proceedings and marriage ceremonies.

The court says Foret violated judicial code and state law by engaging in improper communications and investigations, failing to recuse herself and delegating her judicial duties to her constable, Dwain LeBouef.

In its May 23 ruling, the court wrote, Foret “has engaged in a pattern of serious conduct which harmed the integrity of the judiciary.”

The Courier reports (https://bit.ly/1pIX74U ) an investigation started after defendants in a small claims case complained about her actions.

Norris Comeaux, who owns Raceland-based Comeaux Plumbing & Repairs, sued Charles LeBlanc for money owed on a repair project.

LeBlanc said LeBouef interrupted him during testimony and appeared to act as Comeaux’s attorney.

Foret was accused of conducting an “improper independent investigation,” by having conversations, both directly and through LeBouef, with people involved in the dispute and by having LeBouef obtain a copy of the police report on the case.

LeBouef was allowed to question witnesses, threatened to hold LeBlanc in contempt and provided commentary on LeBlanc’s case. Foret also considered LeBouef’s opinions of the case when deciding a judgment.

LeBlanc said he filed a complaint against Foret and LeBouef with the state Judicial Commission within days of the hearing.

According to the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana’s report, Foret will no longer allow LeBouef to attend hearings.

Though Foret admitted to everything in the commission’s findings, she also indicated “she did not truly understand why some of her actions were improper” and even “placed some blame for her predicament on the LeBlancs.”

Though Foret has no other ethical violations in her 23 years as a justice of the peace, this was not an isolated decision, according to the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Foret had “made a practice of independently obtaining police reports” in 90 percent of her cases and often allowed LeBouef to question witnesses in criminal hearings.

“A justice of the peace as experienced as (Foret) should be well aware of the need to maintain public respect and confidence in an impartial judiciary,” the commission wrote.

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Information from: The Courier, https://www.houmatoday.com

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