Critiques of the Judiciary
Sexual Harassment in the Courthouse WHEN YOU'RE A JUDGE, YOU CAN ESCAPE ACCOUNTABILITY THROUGH RETIREMENT
In 2010, several courageous female employees of the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court overcame fears of public humiliation or worse, and testified to the Office of Special Council to the Louisiana Judiciary Commission about the sexual harassment they endured at the hands of Juvenile Court Judge David Bell.
Months later, following an order of the State Supreme Court, Judge Bell resigned from the bench, which effectively closed the investigation. The charges against him were dismissed, and he became entitled to start collecting an annual pension of $65,000.1
But, in the words of Yogi Berra, "It ain't over till it's over." Two of the aggrieved courthouse employees, Stacey Guichard and Tammy Griffith, sued the Court, the State, and former Judge Bell. While terms of the 2014 settlement were not disclosed, public records requests by The Times-Picayune eventually revealed in 2018 that the State had paid $205,000 to settle the sexual harassment case against Judge Bell.
Once again, a judge has escaped accountability for misconduct in association with their duties as a judge, leaving taxpayers with a sense of having been swindled. Ironically, in 2017, the former Judge David Bell was indicted for being part of an auto theft ring.1
Report says former Juvenile Court judge David Bell sexually harassed employeesGWEN FILOSAJuly 6, 2010
David Bell resigned last month from his elected judgeship at Orleans Parish Juvenile Court rather than fight allegations from six employees that he sexually harassed women at the Loyola Avenue courthouse, had consensual relationships with other employees of his court, and threatened anyone who dared report him with retaliation, according to a report by the Louisiana Judiciary Commission made public Tuesday.
Juvenile Court Chief Judge Ernestine Gray lodged the complaint about Bell's conduct to the judiciary commission on March 19.
"I'm afraid of him," Tammy Griffith, assistant fiscal manager at the court, told the commission under oath. "I mean, I'm not going to lie, but I am ... How will I be protected if I say these things against this man? What if he finds out, what's going to happen to me, you know?"
Griffith is one of three women who testified before the Office of Special Counsel to the Commission that Bell sexually harassed them with unwanted kisses, leers, provocative comments about how "sexy" they look, and requests such as "go upstairs and take off your skirt," according to an 18-page report that is part of a two-volume filing to the state Supreme Court by the commission.
A fourth employee at the court said she witnessed Bell's overtures to Griffith and also said that Bell dated his former minute clerk and a former judicial administrator.
Bell, 40, who won a 2004 special election to the bench, resigned June 17, two days after the state Supreme Court ordered him to "stay completely out" of the court, pending disciplinary proceedings.
Two weeks earlier, the Judiciary Commission had submitted a report recommending that the high court immediately forbid Bell from "exercising any judicial function" and that he be "immediately disqualified" from the bench. The commission expressed concerns that Bell had violated three judicial canons requiring judges to act in a professional manner, as well as breaking sexual harassment laws.
The two-volume report was initially sealed, but the Supreme Court made the first volume public Tuesday after redacting some personal medical information.
In the course of the inquiry, Bell provided his medical records to the Office of Special Counsel, which investigates judicial complaints. The records show Bell was treated earlier this year for bipolar disorder and sexual addiction; they include a medical opinion that a symptom of his disorder is "hypersexuality."
"This may be a factor in the conduct alleged as to his sexual harassment of female employees at the court," wrote commission attorneys Sharonda Williams and Nancy Rix in the report, which was originally filed under seal. Bell has denied the allegations of sexual harassment.
Stacey Guichard, clerk of juvenile court, told the commission's attorneys that Bell's inappropriate behavior began in late 2008, when she walked into a women's restroom to find the judge using it.
"He came out and indicated that I was trying to see his stuff when I came in the bathroom," Guichard said. During a lunch break, she said, Bell told her and two other court employees that he wanted to get to know Guichard better.
"And that he doesn't like anything kinky," Guichard said. "He just likes straight sex."
Guichard said she dealt with the comments by looking for a new job, but decided to speak up when she noticed her employees also taking abuse, the report says.
"There's a lot of wrongs there that needed to be righted," Guichard said. "And a lot of people are getting mistreated. I never said anything because I felt I could deal with it."
Guichard, however, was soon in trouble herself, after judges learned she had hired a former live-in boyfriend to work as a process server, violating court policy, the report says.
At an en banc meeting held after Bell returned to work, in April, Bell told the other judges about Guichard's recent hire and recommended that the court fire her.
Guichard was summoned. She told the judges that she had had a relationship with the new process server but that it ended before she began working at juvenile court. The man had fallen on hard times and needed a place to stay and a job, she said. Bell, according to the newest juvenile court judge, Tracey Flemings-Davillier, later said that he wanted to err on the side of caution by firing Guichard.
Instead, the judges decided to place a written reprimand in her file.
Griffith told the commission that before Bell walked into that April meeting he bragged: "I've got my own ammunition and somebody is going to get fired."
Bell would have been up for re-election for an eight-year term on Oct. 2. On Tuesday, his attorney, Dane Ciolino, said the former judge is "just practicing law," and has no plans to run for judicial office again. Bell's resignation closes the judiciary commission's investigation.
"Now that he has resigned, all of it's been dismissed," said Ciolino, a Loyola Law School professor.
Bell spent the first three months of the year on medical leave. The records released Tuesday show he was hospitalized from Jan. 8-13 at Memorial Hospital in Gulfport, where he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, prescribed two kinds of medication and told to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and a Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous group. He remained on medical leave until April 1. During that span, Gray filed the complaint.
"While he reported homicidal and suicidal feelings when he entered the facility, in a follow-up visit to the hospital on April 1, 2010, he reported no such feelings," the commission's report notes. A footnote says Bell had thoughts in January about killing someone associated with work.
Bell, a Pensacola, Fla., native who promised during the 2004 election to help juveniles caught in the justice system find rehabilitation and vocational training, did not object to the decision to bar him from the bench.
But Bell on June 16 urged the court to either seal the first volume of the judiciary report or at least redact "highly confidential and embarrassing medical information that he has never consented to be released publicly."
The justices decided to redact all direct quotations to Bell's medical records in Volume I, which are on pages 2, 13 and 14, the court said.
"In all other respects, Volume I is unsealed and shall be a matter of public record," the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled on Friday in an anonymous opinion.
Only Justices Jeffrey Victory and John Weimer disagreed with the majority, each writing the same one-sentence dissent: "I would not redact Volume I."
The court agreed to keep the second volume sealed, which Ciolino said "is all medical issues."
Bell, who earned his law degree from Southern University Law Center in 1995, bested Yolanda King in December 2004, in a rare court-ordered rerun of the initial primary, which a judge ruled constitutionally unfair because voting machines arrived hours late in more than 90 precincts.
Bell won while having a Criminal Court case against him technically still open.
In 1998, he was booked with forcible rape and crime against nature, according to former District Attorney Eddie Jordan's staff. Prosecutors declined charges against him because of "testimony insufficient to prove crime," and Bell said that the records were expunged and the allegations were lies made by an angry ex-girlfriend.
"I was the victim of a bad relationship, " Bell said in 2004.
In 2003, he was booked with illegal possession of a car after being stopped on Lakeshore Drive in a black Corvette that had been reported stolen, an incident that Bell said was a mix-up. The DA's office refused those charges in January 2005.Copyright 2017, NOLA Media Group
From: Gwen Filosa, "Report says former Juvenile Court judge David Bell sexually harassed employees," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, July 6, 2010, http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2010/07/report_says_former_juvenile_co.html, accessed 01/09/2018. Staff writer Laura Maggi contributed to this report. Gwen Filosa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C.
§ 107for a non-profit educational purpose.
Sexual harassment case against David Bell, former juvenile judge, settled out of courtANDY GRIMMNovember 3, 2014
Two women who claimed they endured years of sexual harassment from former Orleans Parish Juvenile Court Judge David Bell settled their lawsuit against Bell and the court just a few days before their case was set to go to trial.
Former court employees Stacey Guichard and Tammy Griffith sued the juvenile court, the state and Bell, claiming the judge for years hit on them, made lewd comments and retaliated when they complained to authorities.
The case, filed nearly four years ago, had been set to go to trial Monday (Nov. 3), but the parties reached a settlement on Friday. Terms of the settlement were not immediately available. Nghana Lewis Gauff, attorney for both Guichard and Griffith, declined comment.
Bell resigned from the bench in June 2010, a day after the state Supreme Court suspended him from his judicial duties to "stay completely out" of the Juvenile Court and any court facilities. The move to suspend Bell came after a state Judiciary Commission investigation of sexual harassment claims against the judge.
The allegations in the lawsuit mirror statements Guichard and Griffith made when interviewed by Judiciary Commission investigators in 2010. The suit said that on one occasion Bell, who was chief judge of the juvenile court, offered Griffith a $10,000 raise if she would "lift up her skirt," and frequently told her and other female court employees that they were "sexy."
Guichard and Griffith also clashed with Bell's successor as chief judge, Ernestine Gray, whom they claim nitpicked their work and created a hostile working environment. Griffith was fired from her court job in November 2010 and Guichard quit a few months later.
Lawyers for Bell and the court noted that both women received raises while working at the court, and said the conduct by the judges was not harsh enough that it made the workplace hostile.Copyright 2017, NOLA Media Group
From: Andy Grimm, "Sexual harassment case against David Bell, former juvenile judge, settled out of court," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2014/11/sexual_harassment_case_against.html, accessed 01/09/2018. Andy Grimm can be reached at email@example.com. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C.
§ 107for a non-profit educational purpose.
State paid $205,000 to settle sexual harassment claims against ex-New Orleans judge David BellJONATHAN BULLINGTONJanuary 5, 2018
Louisiana taxpayers spent $205,000 to settle sexual harassment claims made against former Orleans Parish Juvenile Court Judge David Bell, according to state records released Friday (Jan. 5).
The records, released to NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune after a December public records request, do not identify the recipients of two separate November 2014 settlement payouts: one for $150,000 and the other for $55,000. They also do not include details of the accusations against Bell, 48, who resigned from the bench in 2010 and is currently under indictment in Jefferson Parish in connection with an alleged auto theft ring.
The combined payouts in Bell's case represent the largest amount for a single accused party among 27 separate settlements or court judgements the state has paid in the last eight years to people who have accused state officials and employees of sexual harassment, the records show.
In total, the state has paid out $1.3 million to settle sexual harassment claims since mid-2009.
The total figure includes 27 separate payouts that range from $5,500 to $150,000.
When reached by phone Friday, Bell said the state did not represent him in a 2011 federal sexual harassment lawsuit filed on behalf of two former court employees. The suit was settled in November 2014, days before trial. Bell directed questions about the case to the law firm he said represented him in the lawsuit. An attorney for the firm was not immediately available for comment.
The two former employees who filed suit against Bell were among six court employees who accused him of sexual harassment, the details of which were made public in a 2010 investigation by the Louisiana Judiciary Commission.
Three of the women interviewed during the probe accused Bell of kissing them against their wishes, of making unwanted comments about their appearance, and of asking at least one to lift her skirt, according to a previous Times-Picayune story.
Bell, who was elected to the bench in a 2004 special election, resigned in June 2010, days after the state Supreme Court banished him from Juvenile Court. Six years later, he was indicted on racketeering charges in connection with an alleged Jefferson Parish auto theft ring.1 The criminal case is still pending, court records show. Bell has previously denied involvement in the ring.Copyright 2017, NOLA Media Group
From: Jonathan Bullington,"State paid $205,000 to settle sexual harassment claims against ex-New Orleans judge David Bell," NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, January 5, 2018, http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2018/01/david_bell_sexual_harassment.html, accessed 01/09/2018. Staff reporter Julia O'Donoghue contributed to this story. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C.
§ 107for a non-profit educational purpose.
- Chad Calder and Ramon Antonio Varga, "Former New Orleans Judge David Bell indicted in Jefferson auto theft ring case," The Advocate, New Orleans, February 23, 2017, http://www.theadvocate.com/new_orleans/news/courts/article_d9f81dd8-f9f5-11e6-97f2-cb5970c73d12.html, accessed 01/09/2018.
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