Oct 172012

Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson

Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson
Courtesy Louisiana Supreme Court

First come, first served. Article V, § 6 of the 1974 Louisiana Constitution lays down very clearly who is the next chief justice to be: to wit the “oldest in point of service.” (Also see the article Who is the Chief-Justice-to-be on the Louisiana Supreme Court? of June 14, 2012)

Former Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Pascal F. Calogero  assigned Court of Appeal (4th Circuit) Judge Bernette Joshua Johnson  justice ad hoc to the state’s supreme court on October 28, 1994, when Honorable Revius O. Ortique Jr.  retired on his 70th birthday. Justice Johnson took office on October 31, 1994, has since been a justice on that same court, and was later elected in 2000.

Two months after Johnson’s appointment, Justice Jeffrey P. Victory had been elected to the high court and took office as well (on January 1, 1995). The difference between those two supreme court justices is that Johnson initially was appointed and Victory was elected.

There are elected and appointed ad hoc justices on state supreme courts. (In the federal system, all judges are appointed.) The latter usually bridge the time needed to fill the vacancy by an elected official or to cover for his/ her recused colleague. The future chief justice has to be selected by “seniority.” The question now basically is: Are appointed judges second class judges, or is the service by both judges credited equally?

Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll  (the prosecutor in Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons) is an interested party and, therefore, has been recused from judgment like the two associate justices “oldest in point of service.”  The court explains that “if Justice Victory’s seniority were found to be superior to that of Justice Johnson under the legal theory that service by election directly on this court trumps service by appointment, Justice Knoll would be next in line to succeed to the chief justice position before Justice Johnson.”

The judges in charge have decided that the constitution does not “limit the experience that matters to only elected experience.”

The court concludes, “Neither Article V, § 6 nor any other relevant provision makes any distinction between elected service and appointed service. Thus, upon Chief Justice Kimball’s retirement in early 2013, Justice Johnson, through an unbroken chain of both appointed and elected service on this court, has the most seniority to become the next chief justice.”

Requests for a rehearing may be filed with the Louisiana Supreme Court until Sunday, October 21, 2012. Read the court’s full opinion here.

Aug 232012


Vincent Simmons has been fighting for an evidentiary hearing for decades. He filed an application for rehearing pro se on May 17, 2011, with the Court of Appeal (Third Circuit) in Lake Charles, Louisiana. (Case number: CW 11-00608) The court did not consider the application and explained the denial of October 13, 2011, almost two months later in writing:

“An application for rehearing from a ruling denying a writ application is not permitted pursuant to Uniform Rules—Courts of Appeal, Rule 2–18.7. Furthermore, this court cannot consider arguments and evidence which have not been presented to the trial court.” (See the Opinion)
According to that Rule (page 24 of 42), a rehearing is considered when the court either “granted a writ application on the merits,” “dismissed an appeal,” or “ruled on the merits of an appeal.”

On August 22, 2012, the Supreme Court of Louisiana denied Vincent Simmons’ Writ Application:

KNOLL, J., recused.

Jun 262012

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling of June 25, 2012, in Miller v. Alabama entitles juveniles serving a mandatory life term without the possibility of parole to be granted a new sentencing hearing.

“Held: The Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders. Pp. 6−27.”

More at http://www.iippi.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=13745

Christi Lynn Cheramie, now in her 30s and a model prisoner, was 16 years old when she pleaded guilty to second degree murder in Avoyelles Parish.  

This might interest you as well: How Germany does Prison – Americans on a mind-boggling incarceration road trip. (from June 16th through June 21st 2015)

Jun 142012

Judge Jeannette Theriot Knoll

Courtesy Loyola University New Orleans

Present Chief Justice Catherine D. Kimball of the Louisiana Supreme Court retires on January 31, 2013, and it looks as though this is Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll’s chance to get on the top of the ladder of the State’s highest court. Associate Justice Knoll prosecuted Vincent Simmons in 1977.

Under Article V, Section 6 of the Louisiana Constitution, the “judge oldest in point of service on the supreme court shall be chief justice.” However, Chief Justice Kimball writes in her order of June 13, 2012, that “contrary legal positions have been expressed.”

Chief Justice Kimball has ordered the sitting Justices to file their opinions and factual matters with the Clerk of Court no later than July 31, 2012. The three associate justices “oldest in point of service” are recused. They are:

  1. Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson (in office since October 31, 1994)
  2. Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll (in office since January 1, 1997)
  3. Justice Jeffrey P. Victory (in office since January 1, 1995)

“Any responses by a sitting Justice shall be filed with the Clerk of Court by August 15, 2012,” determines the Chief Justice.


The Amendment of July 20, 2012 concerning the new deadline is available at  http://www.lasc.org/opinions/2012/2012O1342.pdf .

Also read Hon. Bernette Joshua Johnson first African-American chief justice on Louisiana’s Supreme Court of October 17, 2012.

Feb 132012

Innocence Project Newsletter of February 8, 2012

…With Connick v. Thompson, the U.S. Supreme Court took away one of the only remaining means for the wrongfully convicted to hold prosecutors accountable for willful misconduct. Although all other professionals, from doctors to airline pilots to clergy, can be held liable for their negligence, the Supreme Court has effectively given district attorney offices legal immunity for the actions of their assistants, even when an office is deliberately indifferent to its responsibility to disclose exculpatory evidence.

It is now up to our elected officials to strengthen our existing systems and create new ones if necessary to ensure that prosecutor’s offices are accountable and transparent. Contact your elected officials and demand that they strengthen safeguards against prosecutorial misconduct and protections for the wrongfully convicted in your state.


Barry Scheck
The Innocence Project


Join the campaign by visiting the website at http://www.prosecutorialoversight.org and on Facebook and Twitter.

May 242011

GULFPORT, MISSISSIPPI: Sonya Lynn Nelson (September 18, 1966 – July 13, 2009), formerly of Alexandria, Louisiana, was the younger step-sister of Vincent Simmons’ alleged rape victims. Nelson (42) suffered a fatal gunshot wound to her abdomen in her rented room while struggling over a gun with her landlord Larry Dean Slagle (then 71) two years ago. Two shots went off on that Monday night. One of them struck the tenant.

The media has not disclosed whose weapon it was. I personally think that, depending on whose pistol it was, the story looks different.

Slagle called police around 8:30 P.M. Nelson died at Memorial Hospital in Gulfport, Mississippi, on that same night. Justice Court Judge Gene Dedeaux ordered Slagle held without bond at the Harrison County Adult Detention Center, reported the Sun Herald on July 15, 2009.

Assistant District Attorney Chris Fisher told the Sun Herald that the altercation between Nelson and Slagle had been about the cost of electricity. The defendant’s version is that it was an accident. Fisher corroborates his theory of murder with the statement, “In the 911 tape, you could hear her dying declaration. She was screaming he was lying.”

The prosecutor charged Slagle with murder. Because the jury believed Slagle had not shot Nelson deliberately, Circuit Judge Larry Bourgeois sentenced Larry Dean Slagle to 20 years for manslaughter and suspended half of the penalty on Thursday, May 19, 2011. Slagle has to serve ten years in prison.

May 182011

On recommendation of the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana, the Louisiana Supreme Court ordered on May 10, 2011, that Justice of the Peace Roger Adams, Sr., of Ward 7/ Simmesport, 12th District, Parish of Avoyelles, State of Louisiana, be suspended without pay for one year, followed by a two-year period of probation, attend the Attorney General’s justice of the peace training every year until his term of probation is completed, reimburse and pay to the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana the sum of US$532.58. 

The court opines that Adams violated Canons 1, 2 (A), and 3 (A) (1) of the Code of Judicial Conduct, and Article V, Section 25 (C) of the Louisiana Constitution 

Adams, an African-American non-lawyer and Democrat has been in office for eight years. The first time the Louisiana Supreme Court suspended him was in June of 2007 (In re: Adams, 07-0426 (La. 6/29/07), 959 So.2d 474). The justice of the peace admitted he had issued arrest warrants for two persons for a parade permit violation and having set excessively high bonds in retaliation for their political opposition to the mayor of the Town of Simmesport, James T. “Boo” Fontenot (July 7, 1951 – August 4, 2008) 

In April 2008, an inmate at the Avoyelles Women’s Correctional Center in Simmesport asked Adams to sign a judgment of her and her husband’s divorce. Although justices of the peace do not have jurisdiction (La. Code Civ. Proc. art. 4913) in such matters, Adams signed the document and received a US$10.00 “notary fee” in return.  Further mistakes were:

Adams uses the Justice Court Manual prepared by the Louisiana Attorney General to assist justices of the peace in the performance of their duties, but he also admits that he made a “hasty decision.” 

The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled, “Adams’s [sic] lack of familiarity with even the most basic rules pertaining to the exercise of his authority in a civil matter constitutes serious misconduct.”


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