Treatment of judge’s son in jail detailed
When jail inmate William “Billy” Bates Colvin’s mother expressed concern about bringing her son face wash last year, he told her not to worry, saying the guards at the Pointe Coupee Parish Jail never search him after he meets with visitors.
In reports about phone conversations Colvin had with his mother, state district Judge Kay Bates, police suggest not being searched is just one of the benefits Colvin has enjoyed because of his mother’s position since his 2012 arrest on accusations he stole guns and about 50 pounds of cocaine from an evidence vault while on the job at the East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court’s Office.
In Baton Rouge police reports recently filed in court by prosecutors, since-retired Detective Brett Busbin summarizes phone conversations Colvin had with his fiancée, Vanessa Savoy, and his mother, including a March 2, 2013, chat in which Bates speaks with her son about his request for face wash.
The next day, Colvin asked his fiancée to bring him nude pictures “again,” Busbin wrote in a summary of the couple’s conversation that evening. The request came about a week after Colvin had asked her to smuggle him some Adderall, a prescription drug used primarily to treat attention disorders. She refused to do so, instead offering to bring him pornographic images, Busbin wrote.
“Based on recorded jail calls between Colvin and Savoy, Colvin and Judge Bates, and information gleaned during the investigation, it is believed that William Colvin is receiving special treatment because of his mother’s position,” Busbin said in the narrative section of one police report.
Prosecutors filed the reports during the pretrial exchange of information in the charges faced by Colvin and several other people, including his 56-year-old ex-girlfriend, Debra Bell, who also worked at the Clerk’s Office at the time of the cocaine theft. Police kept the recorded conversations as evidence because, in some of them, Colvin discusses matters relevant to the investigation into the stolen cocaine and guns, such as jewelry purchased with drug sale proceeds.
However, it doesn’t appear the preferential treatment allegations, some involving Colvin’s mother, factor in the criminal charges he and his co-defendants are facing.
Busbin said one reason Colvin is being held in Pointe Coupee is because one of his family members requested he be moved from the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison shortly after he was booked there in December 2012. Colvin was moved from the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison to the West Baton Rouge Parish Jail and then to the Pointe Coupee Parish Jail, where he remains.
The detective said he called East Baton Rouge Parish Prison to request an interview with Colvin but was told the inmate had been moved to the West Baton Rouge Parish Jail “at the request of a family member.”
“It is believed Judge Bates has requested he be moved from East Baton Rouge Parish Jail,” Busbin wrote.
Lt. Col. Dennis Grimes, warden of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, said through a spokeswoman that he alone made the decision to move Colvin across the Mississippi River.
“He felt it was a security risk that (Colvin) was in prison with inmates that had been incarcerated by his mother,” Casey Rayborn Hicks, an East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, said in an email.
Bates has been a civil judge since her election in 1996 and doesn’t hear criminal cases unless another judge is absent, meaning her rulings don’t usually send people to prison.
However, she does sign criminal warrants. And before being elected judge, she was a court commissioner who signed warrants and set bail. She also was a prosecutor before becoming commissioner.
“A large percentage of our inmate population are repeat offenders and return to the prison years later for other offenses as well,” Hicks said. “Therefore, the likelihood that we have inmates placed in jail by Judge Bates recently or in the past is very high.”
The warden did not receive a request from Colvin’s family or anyone else to move the judge’s son, Hicks said.
However, Busbin wrote that one taped jailhouse conversation suggests “Judge Bates can make a call to Bobby Dale and manipulate where Colvin is housed in jail.”
Busbin wrote that it’s possible Bates was referring to Capt. Bobby Dale Callender, who is now an administrative assistant for East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, acting as a legislative, governmental and judicial liaison.
In one conversation, “Judge Bates asks Colvin if he wants to stay in Pointe Coupee Parish Jail or be transported back to Baton Rouge,” Busbin wrote.
The phone call summary doesn’t provide Colvin’s answer — it just says that Bates will notify a man identified only as “Bobby Dale” that Colvin wants to stay in Pointe Coupee.
“Captain Callender’s official capacity with the Sheriff’s Office has no involvement with the placement of prisoners nor was he involved with the investigation pertaining to this inmate,” Hicks said.
Colvin was transferred from the West Baton Rouge Parish Jail to the Pointe Coupee Parish Jail in late January 2013 because West Baton Rouge did not have enough open beds, Hicks said. Colvin has been in Pointe Coupee for a little more than a year now.
Before Colvin went to jail, he was flush with cash. Among his purchases were a Lexus, a Rolex watch and a diamond engagement ring.
But not long after his arrest, those luxuries and more were seized when police accused Colvin of buying the items using profits gleaned from illicit drug sales.
Now, he’s broke, and his parents won’t bail him out of jail, said Colvin’s defense attorney, Frank Holthaus.
But they do visit him, and according to investigators, his parents can see their son often. Busbin claims that isn’t a privilege afforded to most inmates.
“It’s a professional courtesy,” said Capt. Steve Juge, Pointe Coupee Parish Jail’s warden.
Juge said Bates sometimes calls jail administrators when she has breaks in court and asks if she can drop by to visit her son. The jail usually grants her requests, Juge said, because Bates is an attorney, and the jail never prohibits lawyers from visiting their clients.
For other inmates, family members can’t visit any time they want. Ultimately, whether an inmate is allowed a contact visit, during which inmates can meet with visitors without any type of physical barrier, is the warden’s decision, Juge said.
Juge said if Colvin isn’t being searched by guards after contact visits, the deputies are violating jail rules.
As for the face wash and the naked pictures, Juge said he had no knowledge of either incident. He said face wash wouldn’t qualify as contraband but nude pictures would.
In one recorded conversation, Colvin admits to his fiancée, Savoy, that he stole food from the jail’s commissary, which essentially serves as a general store for inmates.
Juge said he had no knowledge of the alleged theft, although he did say Colvin once worked in the commissary.
Now he’s on laundry duty.
It’s a far cry from his position at the Clerk’s Office. Police say Colvin admitted stealing a supervisor’s key to the courthouse’s evidence vault to take guns and about 50 pounds of cocaine several times in late 2012. He’s also admitted selling the cocaine and reaping at least $200,000 in drug profits.
Despite Colvin’s troubles, both he and his mother discussed the possibility of him returning as a Clerk’s Office employee once he gets out of jail, according to a summary of one of their many phone conversations.
“Judge Bates advises Colvin that he might get a job back there (the Clerk’s Office), everybody loves him and it was just a mistake,” Busbin wrote in a police report.
Asked about the possibility of rehiring Colvin, East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court Doug Welborn said in a prepared statement: “The breach of the evidence room in 2012 represented an enormous betrayal of the public trust as well as the trust and integrity of our office, and we could never consider anyone involved in the breach for employment in the future.”
Holthaus, Colvin’s attorney, declined to comment on anything discussed by Colvin in phone conversations recorded at the Pointe Coupee Parish Jail.
“Until I have an opportunity to review what the conversation really is, I’m not going to comment on somebody’s wild card interpretation designed to suit his own purposes,” Holthaus said, referring to the detective’s summary of the conversations.
Colvin’s mother, Bates, also declined comment.
During the investigation into Colvin’s involvement with the missing drugs, police interviewed Savoy, whom they expect to be a witness for prosecutors. Savoy received jewelry from Colvin purchased with drug profits, investigators found.
In a recorded phone call on Feb. 8, 2013, comments between Bates and her son indicate the judge had spoken to Savoy prior to her questioning by police, Busbin said. He described Bates’ conversation with Savoy as “coaching.”
“Colvin tells Judge Bates that he told Savoy to sign the paper and walk off, that she did not have to talk to them,” Busbin wrote. “Judge Bates tells Colvin, ‘That’s what I told her.’ ”
Under ethical guidelines laid out by the American Bar Association, judges cannot practice law. However, a judge “may, without compensation, give legal advice to and draft or review documents for a member of the judge’s family,” according to the ABA’s Model Code of Judicial Conduct.
Dane Ciolino, a lawyer who teaches professional responsibility at Loyola University’s College of Law in New Orleans, said judges typically aren’t barred from advising family members.
“Under national standards governing judges, judges typically can give advice to members of family,” Ciolino said. “But it doesn’t extend to friends and family-to-be.”
According to the Louisiana Supreme Court’s Judicial Code of Conduct, “a judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interest of the judge or others; nor shall a judge convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge.”
William G. Ross, a judicial ethics and law professor at Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law, said, in general, a judge may share the benefit of his or her experience as an attorney or judge in helping a friend or family member litigate a case.
“This would include helping the friend or family member prepare his testimony, provided that the judge did not in any way encourage perjury or other unlawful conduct, or reveal nonpublic information that the judge has obtained through his or her judicial office,” Ross said in an email, stressing that he had no knowledge of the facts in Bates’ case so he could not comment on particulars.