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Orleans judge says she's been cleared of sexual harassment complaint

White’s attorney said the firm that was hired by the court to investigate an allegation that she made advances on a courthouse staffer, had “vindicated" the judge.
Credit: Orleans Criminal District Court

NEW ORLEANS — Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Laurie White says an outside law firm’s investigation has cleared her of workplace sexual harassment claims.

In a statement, White’s attorney said that the firm, which was hired by the court to investigate an allegation that White made sexual advances on a courthouse staffer, had “vindicated” the judge. The law firm’s findings were relayed to White verbally at a March 17 meeting, according to attorney Judy Barrasso.

“Judge White emphatically denied the claims as patently meritless. The Criminal Court retained counsel to conduct an independent investigation of the employee’s allegations which, after a thorough investigation, concluded that the claims had no merit,” Barrasso said.

The statement from White’s lawyer offers a glimpse at the results of a secretive investigation of a long-tenured judge that the court has so far refused to share. A public-records request for the law firm's report was denied earlier this week, and court officials declined to comment on the investigation.

RELATED: Judge Laurie White accused of sexual harassment by court employee

Still, the law firm's inquiry may not be the last examination of the judge's conduct. The accuser’s lawyer said he has filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which could be the first step toward a potential lawsuit.

'I haven't seen it'

Barrasso and the accuser's lawyer, Robert Pearson, both said they did not know what actions, if any, the court took after receiving the law firm’s report. Nor have they received copies of the document.

While Barrasso said her client was pleased with the firm’s findings, Pearson said he couldn't comment.

"I haven't seen a report that vindicated anybody," Pearson said. "If that's how she feels, that's how she feels. I haven't seen it."

In a letter Thursday, the court’s judicial administrator, Rob Kazik, formally denied a request for a copy of the report. Releasing the report, Kazik said, was a violation of privacy that could prevent other accusers from coming forward in the future.

The courthouse staffer accused the judge of making a sexual advance, sexually harassing the staffer and eventually subjecting the staffer to retaliation, according to Pearson.

White has maintained her innocence and vowed to remain on the bench since the staffer came forward with the allegation in January.

The staffer's complaint to the court triggered a formal investigation from the Criminal District Court, which farmed the probe out to the Denham Springs law firm of Boyer, Hebert, Caruso & Angelle.

Under a Louisiana law passed in 2018, criminal courts and other state agencies are required to maintain policies for receiving and investigating sexual harassment complaints. But the courts themselves aren’t the only bodies with jurisdiction: the secretive state Judiciary Commission and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission could also examine sexual harassment allegations.

The judiciary commission’s rules prohibit accusers and judges alike from commenting on even the existence of a judiciary investigation. Pearson and Barrasso declined to comment on that point.

Separately, however, Pearson said that he has filed an EEOC complaint on his client's behalf.

"It's in process," said Pearson. "As far as we're concerned, we have done everything that they have asked of us."

Under federal law, plaintiffs must file a complaint with the EEOC before they can pursue lawsuits alleging discrimination or retaliation.

$16,000 report kept secret

For its part, the Criminal District Court is staying quiet about the apparent resolution of the internal investigation. Chief Judge Robin Pittman referred questions to the court’s judicial administrator, Rob Kazik, who declined comment.

The firm’s examination involved reviewing personnel documents and conducting multiple interviews before finalizing the report in early March, according to invoices. Through the end of March the firm claimed $16,000 in fees.

The firm's invoices confirm that it met with an unidentified "judge" on March 17 to relay the investigation’s results.

Staff writer Jillian Kramer contributed to this report.

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