AG considers filing motion to recuse remaining Ascension judges from Matassa trial

Halen Doughty
Parish President Kenny Matassa

Who will preside over Parish President Kenny Matassa's trial? That's still up in the air. The Louisiana Attorney General's Office is reportedly considering a recusal of the three remaining judges in the 23rd Judicial District Court from presiding over the alleged bribery case.

Last month, Judge Jason Verdigets recused himself from the trial because of his work with Matassa in planning a new parish courthouse. Now, the AG's office said it is considering a recusal motion for the other three judges in the district for similar issues.

Matassa's attorney Lewis Unglesby was not pleased with the announcement, as the motion postponed the trial set for February 21. He said Verdigets recused himself because of his weekly interactions with the Parish President in the planning of the courthouse. But Unglesby said the other judges within the district do not have the same conflicts of interest.

Matassa is charged with election bribery after allegedly trying to bribe a candidate in the 2016 Gonzales City Council race to drop out of the election. The Parish President was recorded having a conversation with Wayne Lawson, the candidate, about dropping out of the race in favor of a job within the parish. Matassa has denied the allegations, calling the discussion an attempt to help a friend with a job and political advice. 

Judge Thomas Kliebert was assigned to the case after Verdiget's recusal. He brought up the possibility of additional recusals Wednesday. Kliebert gave the AG five days to file the motion to recuse him or he will proceed with the case.

"In light of the recent recusal and in the interest of justice, our office is weighing our options regarding the filing of an additional motion to recuse in this matter," a spokesperson from AG Landry's office said. "Should we file additional motions to recuse, it will be done strictly for the purposes of following the law and allowing a neutral court to preside over this matter in the interest of justice."

Unglesby said if the motion is filed, then the Louisiana Supreme Court will have to appoint an ad hoc judge to hear the motion because none of the judges within the 23rd Judicial District Court would be eligible to hear it. Then that judge will make a decision on the motion. Unglesby said he expects the ad hoc] judge to allow the judges within the district to handle the case.  

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