Criminal case of BR judge’s son creates confusion

A dispute is brewing over who should preside over a criminal case involving the son of state District Judge Kay Bates and five others who were indicted July 18 on charges that include possession of cocaine stolen from the East Baton Rouge Parish clerk of court’s evidence vault inside the 19th Judicial District Courthouse.

The case initially was randomly allotted to state District Judge Chip Moore, a criminal court judge and one of Bates’ colleagues on the 15-judge 19th Judicial District Court. Bates is a civil court judge.

Moore recused himself Monday, as did Bates and fellow 19th JDC criminal judges Richard Anderson, Lou Daniel, Bonnie Jackson, Mike Erwin, Tony Marabella and Trudy White, and civil judges Mike Caldwell, Wilson Fields, Tim Kelley, Todd Hernandez and William Morvant.

The only two 19th JDC jurists who did not sign the recusal order were civil Judge Janice Clark and criminal Judge Don Johnson.

A second random allotment sent the case to Clark on Wednesday.

The East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office filed a motion the next day to set aside what it called the “illegal allotment of a criminal case.”

“Should the judge to whom a criminal case is randomly assigned recuse himself, the Clerk of Court must thereafter continue to randomly allot the case to one of the remaining criminal sections until a criminal judge is selected,” First Assistant District Attorney Prem Burns states in the motion.

“In the event of recusation of all criminal sections, the rules do not authorize allotment to the civil bench but mandate the appointment of a judge ad hoc to preside.

“In no case may a criminal case be allotted to a civil judge when a criminal court section is amenable to presiding over a case,” Burns argues.

Clark declined comment Friday.

Lawyer Frank Holthaus, who represents William Bates Colvin in the criminal case, filed a motion of his own Friday asking for 10 days to respond to the motion filed by Hillar Moore’s office.

“Bearing a self-serving name suited more for propaganda than motion practice, The Questioned Motion claims that the current random allottment is ‘illegal’ even though the current allotment is in full compliance with law,” Holthaus contends.

District Attorney Hillar Moore III said he understands “the predicament that this case places our local judges and can understand their desire to recuse themselves.

“I believe that the allotment of this case to a civil judge was an unintentional violation of the allotment rules for criminal cases,” he said.

“I believe that once the allotment rules are reviewed, as well as our motion for proper allotment, the clerk will present this case to the judge to which the case was originally allotted for him to provide reasons for recusal and thereafter to each other criminal judge for their consideration.

“If there are no criminal judges able to preside over this case, I believe that the (Louisiana) Supreme Court should be asked to appoint an ad hoc judge to preside.

William Bates Colvin, 31, of Baton Rouge, and his codefendants — Debra Vicknair Bell, 55, of Maurepas, and her son Colt Bell, 29, of Baker; Terrance Sloan Ramirez, 30, Deroy Joseph, 40, and Larry Collins, 26, each of Baton Rouge — are scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 9, but that was before Chip Moore recused himself.

Colvin and Debra Bell were employed by the Clerk of Court’s Office at the time of their December arrests.

Colvin is accused of stealing more than 48 pounds of cocaine from the evidence vault between September 2012 and Nov. 30. He also is accused of smuggling firearms from the evidence room.

Moore and Burns have said the stolen drugs and weapons had been seized from accused drug dealers and murderers. The prosecutors added that none of those cases were compromised by the loss of that evidence.

The indictment accuses Colt Bell and Ramirez of extorting Colvin in an effort to force him to commit even more thefts.

In addition to cocaine possession, Colvin and Debra Bell are charged with malfeasance in office. Colvin also is charged with six counts of obstruction of justice.