Colvin accuses co-defendants of extorting him to steal drugs
By crying foul over the judge assigned to the case of William Bates Colvin, prosecutors are ignoring state law and appear to be yearning for the days when district attorneys hand-picked judges to hear criminal cases, Colvin’s defense attorneys argue in new filings to the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Colvin, a former East Baton Rouge Parish clerk of court employee and the son of state District Judge Kay Bates, has admitted smuggling cocaine from an evidence vault and distributing it for profit.
He was indicted with five co-defendants last month, but the proceedings have been delayed by a dispute over which judge should preside over Colvin’s case — a question compounded by his mother’s seat on the local bench and conflicting interpretations of 19th Judicial District Court rules.
After all but two judges recused themselves, Colvin’s case was randomly shuffled to District Judge Janice Clark, a colleague of Bates who primarily handles civil matters.
Prosecutors have challenged what they called an “illegal allotment,” saying the clerk of court should have assigned the case to District Judge Don Johnson, as he primarily handles criminal cases and, like Clark, did not recuse himself.
They asked the Louisiana Supreme Court to appoint an ad hoc judge to intervene, claiming Clark’s involvement “has created the further appearance of impropriety” in an already sensitive case.
Colvin, who was arrested in December, is charged with stealing 22 kilograms, or roughly 48 pounds, of cocaine and several firearms from the clerk of court’s evidence vault. His defense attorney has said he was suffering from substance-abuse issues at the time and was extorted by co-defendants.
In their motion seeking appointment of an outside judge, prosecutors claim Colvin told his fiancée in recorded jailhouse calls that he expects to get a deal because of his connections in the courthouse. They said local court rules are clear that cases such as Colvin’s — in which the date of the alleged crime cannot be determined — should be randomly assigned to a criminal section of the court.
Colvin’s defense attorneys presented a vigorous rebuttal late Monday, alleging in court documents that prosecutors skirted protocol in requesting an outside judge. They referred to the move as “a poorly disguised effort to return to the days when prosecutors dictated which cases were assigned to which judges.”
“Neither party should be able to exploit allotment procedures to obtain a preferred judge or to avoid a judge it deems undesirable,” attorneys Frank Holthaus and Stephanie Borghardt wrote in filings, opposing the appointment of an ad hoc judge.
They said prosecutors failed to file a motion for recusal in the district court and improperly raised the issue for the first time before the Louisiana Supreme Court.
The defense also says local court rules are not rigid and allow judges primarily hearing civil cases to handle criminal matters and vice versa. They cited a state law calling for the district court to adopt local rules for conducting business.
Clerk of Court Doug Welborn, for his part, said in court filings last week that his office acted “in full compliance of its duties” in randomly allotting the case.
Another former Clerk of Court’s Office employee, Debra Vicknair Bell, 55, has been charged along with Colvin with malfeasance in office and possessing more than 400 grams of cocaine. Bell’s son, 29-year-old Colt Bell and Terrance Sloan Ramirez, 30, are accused of extorting Colvin to commit more thefts from the evidence vault. Also charged with possession of stolen cocaine are Baton Rouge residents Deroy Joseph, 40, and Larry Collins, 26.