UNITED STATES NEWS

Judge in Catholic bankruptcy recuses over church donations

Apr 29, 2023, 6:27 AM | Updated: 8:34 am

A federal judge overseeing the New Orleans Roman Catholic bankruptcy recused himself in a late-night reversal that came a week after an Associated Press report showed he donated tens of thousands of dollars to the archdiocese and consistently ruled in favor of the church in the case involving nearly 500 clergy sex abuse victims.

U.S. District Judge Greg Guidry initially announced hours after the AP report that he would stay on the case, citing the opinion of fellow federal judges that no “reasonable person” could question his impartiality. But amid mounting pressure and persistent questions, he changed course late Friday in a terse, one-page filing.

“I have decided to recuse myself from this matter in order to avoid any possible appearance of personal bias or prejudice,” Guidry wrote.

The 62-year-old jurist has overseen the 3-year-old bankruptcy in an appellate role, and his recusal is likely to throw the case into disarray and trigger new hearings and appeals of every consequential ruling he’s made.

But legal experts say it was the only action to take under the circumstances, citing federal law that calls on judges to step aside in any proceeding in which their “impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”

“This was a clear and blatant conflict that existed for some time,” said Joel Friedman, a longtime legal analyst in New Orleans who is now a law professor at Arizona State University. “It creates the exact problem the rules are designed to avoid, the impression to the public that he’s not an impartial decisionmaker.”

Guidry’s recusal underscores how tightly woven the church is in the city’s power structure, a coziness perhaps best exemplified when executives of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints secretly advised the archdiocese on public relations messaging at the height of its clergy abuse crisis.

AP’s review of campaign-finance records showed that Guidry, since being nominated to the federal bench in 2019 by then-President Donald Trump, gave nearly $50,000 to local Catholic charities from leftover political contributions from his decade serving as a Louisiana Supreme Court justice. Most of that giving, $36,000, came in the months after the archdiocese sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May 2020 amid a crush of sexual abuse lawsuits.

Guidry also served on the board of Catholic Charities, the archdiocese’s charitable arm, between 2000 and 2008, as the archdiocese was navigating an earlier wave of sex abuse lawsuits.

In the bankruptcy, Guidry frequently issued key rulings that altered the momentum of the bankruptcy and benefited the archdiocese.

Just last month, he upheld a $400,000 sanction against Richard Trahant, a veteran attorney for clergy abuse victims who was accused of violating a sweeping confidentiality order when he warned a local principal that his school had hired a priest who admitted to sex abuse. He also rebuffed at least one request to unseal secret church documents, part of a trove of records detailing clergy abuse in New Orleans going back decades.

Guidry referred the potential conflict to the Washington-based Committee on Codes of Conduct, which noted that none of the charities he donated to “has been or is an actual party” in the bankruptcy.

It also noted that Guidry’s eight years on the board of Catholic Charities ended more than a decade before the bankruptcy and that his church contributions amounted to less than 25% of the campaign funds he had available to donate.

“Based upon that advice and based upon my certainty that I can be fair and impartial, I have decided not to recuse myself,” Guidry told attorneys in the case on April 21.

But it was not clear what details Guidry shared with the committee, and he refused to release its advisory opinion. The opinion also raised eyebrows because one of the judges Guidry consulted on the potential conflict, Jennifer Walker Elrod, is scheduled to hear an appeal from the bankruptcy next week for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“We have no reason to rely on this secret opinion because we have no idea what the analysis is,” said Kathleen Clark, a legal ethics professor at Washington University in St. Louis, adding it was “utterly reasonable to question Guidry’s ability to be impartial under these circumstances.”

“The public shouldn’t have to rely on a judge’s personal certainty about his own rectitude,” Clark added. “The fact that he would even make this assertion shows how misguided and ethically blind this judge is.”

Charles Hall, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, said Guidry had no comment beyond the recusal order.

James Adams, a creditor in the bankruptcy who alleges he was abused by a priest as a fifth grader in 1980, says the judge’s recusal was long overdue.

“Like the church, some federal judges will often do the right thing only after the press begins to investigate and question them,” he said. “Inflated ego and arrogance can be a dangerous side effect of putting on a black robe.”

___

Mustian reported from New York. Contact AP’s global investigative team at Investigative@ap.org.

United States News

FILE - Host Richard Sherman appears on Amazon Prime's "Thursday Night Football" before an NFL footb...

Associated Press

Former NFL star Richard Sherman’s bail set at $5,000 following arrest for suspicion of DUI

SEATTLE (AP) — Bail was set at $5,000 on Monday for former NFL star Richard Sherman following his weekend arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence. Sherman was pulled over just before 2 a.m. Saturday for driving 79 mph (127 kmh) in a 60 mph (97 kmh) zone on Interstate 405 south of Seattle, […]

4 minutes ago

Associated Press

Firefighters needed so much water that a Minnesota town’s people were asked to go without

HAWLEY, Minn. (AP) — Firefighters needed so much water to battle a huge grain elevator blaze that they had to ask the whole town to go without — even canceling school to conserve the water supply, officials said. The cause of the fire isn’t yet known; a fire marshal had arrived Monday morning. It took […]

9 minutes ago

Associated Press

Primary apathy in Michigan: Democrats, GOP struggle as supporters mull whether to even vote

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Rev. Steve Bland Jr. remembers the massive get-out-the-vote effort he helped mobilize four years ago, when pastors and community leaders spread out across Detroit neighborhoods, made phone calls and worked around the clock to encourage people to vote. He’s not seeing that kind of enthusiasm this time around. Madeleine Byrne, a […]

28 minutes ago

Associated Press

Police ID suspects in killing of man on Bronx subway car as transit officials discuss rising crime

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City police identified three suspects in the killing of a man on a subway car last week, and transit authorities were set to meet Monday to discuss rising crime in the city’s transit system. The NYPD said in a post on X on Sunday that they’re seeking Justin Herde, […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Wild weather’s coming: West readies for snow as Midwest gets a taste of summer

BOSTON (AP) — A powerful winter storm is expected to dump several feet of snow in parts of West starting Monday while much of the central U.S. will be basking in unseasonably warm conditions. Windy conditions are also raising the potential for fires in several states. The National Weather Service said Monday parts of the […]

2 hours ago

FILE - President Joe Biden speaks about border security in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, J...

Associated Press

Biden and Trump both heading to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas on Thursday, according to AP sources

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will make dueling trips to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas on Thursday after congressional talks on a deal to rein in illegal migration collapsed, according to people familiar with the plans. The visits underscore the central role immigration is going to play in the […]

3 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Valley residents should be mindful of plumbing ahead of holidays

With Halloween in the rear-view and more holidays coming up, Day & Night recommends that Valley residents prepare accordingly.

...

Canvas Annuity

Interest rates may have peaked. Should you buy a CD, high-yield savings account, or a fixed annuity?

Interest rates are the highest they’ve been in decades, and it looks like the Fed has paused hikes. This may be the best time to lock in rates for long-term, low-risk financial products like fixed annuities.

Judge in Catholic bankruptcy recuses over church donations