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Story Archives: Judge Boothe's ruling in James Skipper case
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|Judge Boothe's ruling in James Skipper case|
(Editor's Note: Judge Leo Boothe's ruling to reduce James Skipper's sentence is found at the end of these excerpts from the transcripts of court proceedings in Seventh Judicial Court, Division B, on Aug. 13, 2008.)
THE COURT (Judge Boothe): ...this is an unusual situation. But it was alluded to that there was a conspiracy to remove this judge from this case and from this, and as judge?
MR. SKIPPER: Yes, sir.
THE COURT: Did that have anything to do with the adverse publicity that this Court received concerning alleged deals and that sort of thing that was printed in the local newspaper?
MR. SKIPPER: Your Honor, as I explained that to the district attorney, and that will not change, I was advised by Gene Allen that I wouldn't return to prison and I believe him. But as far as everything that was filed with the judiciary committee, I was told how to file it, basically who to contact, who to write and so forth.
THE COURT: Skipper, you mentioned an agenda. You mentioned your nephew Justin Conner, did you feel that Justin Conner and other parties had an objective or an agenda that conflicted with your case being handled in a certain way in this judicial district? In other words, that agenda superseded concerns about your faith or concerns about how you would be treated by this district?
MR. SKIPPER: Yes, sir.
THE COURT: And you felt that you were exploited or used for their agenda; is that what you're telling this Court?
MR. SKIPPER: Without question I was. I know I was.
THE COURT: And the objective during some of these hearings that we had and all the publicity was an agenda to remove this judge from this position?
MR. SKIPPER: Basically to bring out some things so they could be brought to the attention of the newspaper and so forth.
THE COURT: All right. Were you aware, Mr. Skipper, that any situation you presented involving members of the community at large and that sort of thing is one thing, but if a member of the judiciary or this judicial system exploited or used you or you were kind of scapegoated in that way, that would be a totally different point of view and a totally different -- in other words, this Court would be greatly aggrieved if a defendant in this judicial system was treated detrimentally or exploited for purposes other than the ends of justice. And as a member of this judicial system, I want everybody that appears in this judicial system to get justice.
And if someone involved, highly placed in this judicial system, had other agenda or did something detrimental to a defendant such as yourself, then that would be the fault of the system and not your fault. That would be something -- what I'm telling you is if this is your position, then this Court would have to consider giving you some relief because to some extent you were victimized by the system. Is that correct?
MR. SKIPPER: Yes, sir.
THE COURT: And you're telling me that these documented phone calls,...you were having a direct conversation with a judge in this division, a direct personal phone contact where you could talk to that person and interchange ideas and communicate?
MR. SKIPPER: Yes, sir.
THE COURT: And this was arranged by your nephew Justin Conner?
MR. SKIPPER: Yes, sir.
THE COURT: These documents that you and Mr. Skipper submitted, Joint Exhibit Number 1, now you're telling me these are actual transcripts of actual conversations? I believe Mr. Skipper testified under oath and I know, for the record, this is the first time he's ever testified under oath. Anything he's ever alleged before or said was during argument or on paper and this is the first time, Mr. Skipper, to my knowledge, has ever submitted to and testified under oath under penalty of perjury. But Mr. Johnson, you're telling me that these exhibits that you and Mr. Skipper submitted as Joint Exhibit Number 1 are transcripts of actual telephone conversations?
MR. (JOHN) JOHNSON: Yes, your Honor. As far as Mr. Skipper's ability to see them, I don't think he has seen or read these things but he has indicated that yes, they contain copies of the conversation. I will submit to you, your Honor, and to the Court that these documents were provided by the Attorney General's Office with the assistance of the state police and the Department of Corrections as transcripts of those documents and it has the transcriber as well as the CD that it's recorded on and I think the originals are still in possession of the Attorney General's Office or state police. And so, yes, I will submit to you that they were presented to me not too long ago by this and I filed these transcripts away in my desk and...
THE COURT: Anyway, Mr. Skipper's testified under oath that he recalls such a conversation and you're telling the Court...
MR. JOHNSON: That's what was submitted to me by the Attorney General's Office as actual transcripts of the conversations between the parties involved on the times and dates indicated to this Court.
THE COURT: And the parties stipulated, jointly stipulated to the exhibit. I know that ordinarily the Court can take judicial notice of pleadings in its own court and I do know something just jogged my memory when Mr. Skipper said that he was advised to submit pleadings styled in a division other than my own.
I do recall and it's in the record in his record at the clerk's office, incorporated into these proceedings, I do recall getting pleadings by Mr. Skipper that would be totally in another division, totally with another judge's name on it and totally not anything to do with Division B or with my name on it and I recall, I think I just scratched through all that and put the proper division and all that at that time. But Mr. Skipper's testimony under oath that he was advised to file that pleading in that manner.
I think the Court can take judicial notice of that pleading as far as the credibility of Mr. Skipper's testimony here. Also, the transcripts of these phone conversations, I haven't had a chance to look at them. But at this time, I'm going to entertain argument by the parties in regard to this matter. Mr. Skipper, you can go first.
MR. SKIPPER: Your Honor, I just ask the Court to consider the motion I filed with the Court as explained to me and the matter which came before the Court today. If this so being that the Court feels that that is relief required, I would appreciate if the Court would grant me relief.
THE COURT: All right.
MR. JOHNSON: Your Honor, when he first, when I offered a plea bargain agreement to Mr. Skipper on whatever date that was, the day that he entered trial, for five years, I thought that was more than reasonable to Mr. Skipper at the time. I knew in my heart that I could not understand why he would turn down such an attractive offer at that time. But now with the advice and the testimony and the transcripts of these tapes, I can understand that perhaps he was used as a pawn in the general scheme of things and I have no problem to waive any delays.
I don't think -- I'm not justifying what Mr. Skipper has done as far as the criminal offenses whatsoever. I don't think Mr. Skipper has, would even try to justify that. However, I do feel that he was being used as a pawn and then I would recommend to the Court that his sentence be reduced from the present sentence of, I think, 25 years to 12 years in the penitentiary.
THE COURT: Mr. Skipper, do you have any rebuttal testimony, argument?
MR. SKIPPER: No, sir.
THE COURT: All right. The matter is submitted. These are remarkable developments. This Court is saddened to hear this type evidence. I do know that during the handling of the Skipper matter, I was mystified as to Mr. Skipper's actions. Because this Court was accused of doing something that this Court got under oath in that witness chair behind that microphone right there and in this day easily being recorded, I think any fair-minded person knows that any conversation -- I said in that oath, under that witness stand right there and said that those allegations about these deals or whatever were not only untrue, that they had never been discussed. As I stated, this Court is saddened to hear the allegations and apparently they're more than mere allegations because there's documented transcripts of actual phone conversations. This Court was mystified as to why Mr. Skipper's constant approach to his problem was to attack the system and attack this Court. It is now his position that he was advised and encouraged to do this by other people who had their own agenda to achieve certain results and consequences in this judicial district. He has alleged, under oath, that one of those parties was occupied one of the highest seats in this judicial district.
The judicial system is responsible for its own. We are all obligated to see that justice is administered. I had a very negative view toward Mr. Skipper's approach. But he's entitled to justice just like anybody else. And if this system let him down in this regard and there seems to be documentation to that effect, if this system was used to exploit him and to create a result in the judicial system that was not fair to him because of other people's agendas and ambitions and things that he was imposed on him and suggested to him.
With that in mind, what's been disclosed here and the evidence adduced and Mr. Skipper's testimony and the argument, this Court has a different view of its responsibility to Mr. Skipper. As I indicated earlier, the layman, other people, Justin Conner, his wife's hardship, his children's hardship, those are all, those are all factors which I had considered before and they were very compelling but I didn't feel that Mr. Skipper was, with the attitude that he had displayed about how the system was handling him, showed that he was sufficiently rehabilitated to get relief.
With this new perspective and with this startling information and these saddening developments that have come before this Court, to make a long story short, that completely changes the whole equation. Because the justice system is, as I said earlier, Mr. Skipper and I apologize to you on behalf of the justice system for this type of activity and that you were adversely affected by actions and motivations of this type. That as a citizen of this judicial district, as a citizen of Concordia Parish, that you weren't given a blank sheet and a fair justice in a way that I, as my utmost goal, that everybody gets. And now I understand and now it makes sense to me based on what you're telling me how mystified I was for so long about how this was coming down that this was not all at your doorstep.
With the complicity of the involvement of other people and some of them directly connected with the judicial system and that's the part that entitles you to relief. Is that if the judicial, a part of the judicial system lets you down. If this is accepted and there's documented phone conversations and that sort of thing. And all these factors together is compelling me to modify your sentence in the manner recommended by the State.
I hereby modify your sentence in the following manner: You are to serve 12 years with Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. And you'll be given credit for time served.
MR. JOHNSON: Thank you, your Honor.
THE COURT: Court's in recess.
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