Ad hoc judge to determine whether Don Johnson can oversee Council on Aging head’s lawsuit
An appointed judge will determine whether state Judge Don Johnson can continue to hear a lawsuit filed by the head of the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging, whose mother also sits on the bench of the 19th Judicial District Court.
Council on Aging Executive Director Tasha Clark-Amar filed a defamation lawsuit last year against the family of a former client of the agency, Helen Plummer. After Plummer died, her family learned that Clark-Amar had been named executor and trustee of the woman’s estate. Her will called for the Council on Aging head to collect more than $100,000 over 20 years in her role managing the estate.
Plummer’s family said they had never heard of Clark-Amar before and that it was wrong for her to enter into an arrangement where she was receiving steep payments from a former client’s estate. Clark-Amar removed herself as trustee, but fired back at the family by suing them, saying their statements caused damage to her reputation.
The defamation lawsuit was originally assigned to Clark-Amar’s own mother, state Judge Janice Clark. Clark then recused herself, as did every other judge in the 19th Judicial District except Johnson.
He has since presided over multiple hearings in the case.
But Clark-Amar’s attorney filed a motion Feb. 26 — eight months after Johnson took over the case — asking Johnson to also recuse himself. The attorney, Charlotte McDaniel McGehee, brought up a criminal case that involved the son of former Baton Rouge state Judge Kay Bates. For that matter, the Louisiana Supreme Court ordered in 2013 that all 19th JDC judges recuse themselves and the court appointed a retired judge to preside.
Thomas Lockwood, the attorney newly representing Plummer’s family in the case, sent Johnson a letter Feb. 27 that said he believed Johnson would “fairly and honestly adjudicate the case” and that there was no need for a recusal.
Johnson filed an order March 2 that became publicly available Friday that called for an ad hoc judge to hear Clark-Amar’s motion for Johnson to recuse himself from the defamation suit. He asked that his order be sent to the state Supreme Court and 19th JDC Chief Judge William Morvant.
In a similar recent case in New Orleans, an ad hoc judge ruled Feb. 23 that there was no need for the entire Orleans Parish Criminal District Court bench to recuse themselves from a case involving New Orleans Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell. Cantrell’s father-in-law is a magistrate judge at the Criminal District Court.