A secret slap on the wrist didn’t stop a family court judge in East Baton Rouge Parish from abusing her power to toss people in jail for contempt of court, according to the Louisiana Judiciary Commission, which has proposed a 6-month unpaid suspension for Judge Charlene Charlet Day.
In a recommendation released this month to the Louisiana Supreme Court, the commission argues that Day, who has held her job since 2011, failed to learn her lesson after agreeing in 2018 to a confidential “admonishment” for disregarding the law when she held two earlier litigants in contempt of court.
In one 2017 case, Day ordered a lawyer who represented himself in her court jailed for 30 days on a contempt charge after refusing to let him speak to defend himself, as the law required. The law also said Day could only jail him for up to 24 hours.
“Accordingly, if any judge should have been aware of the absolute necessity of following the laws governing contempt of court and meticulous about doing so … it was Judge Day,” the commission wrote.
Instead, Day issued another improper bench warrant in August 2019, this time for the stepmother of a child involved in a visitation case. The woman, a justice of the peace, was arrested without warning at the elementary school where she teaches, commission records show.
Attempts to reach the arrested woman were not successful. Day’s attorney, Darrell Saltamachia, did not return messages seeking comment.
The commission is calling now for Day to be suspended for 180 days and pay $6,260 in costs.
Other judges recently rapped for misconduct
Only the Louisiana Supreme Court can discipline judges in the state, and only upon a recommendation from the commission. Complaints against judges become public under court rules after ethics charges are filed.
Day is the third Louisiana judge in the past few months that the commission has taken to task over alleged misconduct. Members admonished Ouachita Parish District Judge Sharon Ingram Marchman in April for lobbing misleading attacks on an opponent during her failed 2018 campaign for a Second Circuit Court of Appeal seat; they also reached a settlement in May with Jefferson Parish Justice of the Peace Michele P. Holmes after Holmes was accused of shortchanging a constable in her office.
At issue in Marchman’s case were a series of advertisements that made false or misleading claims against the candidate who eventually won the appellate seat, Judge James M. “Jimbo” Stephens. In some attacks, Marchman likened Stephens to independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders because Stephens is a member of the Louisiana Independent Party; Marchman also accused Stephens of being paid to represent a defendant who was convicted in the 1988 killing of a sheriff’s deputy and of “revers(ing) the conviction of a burglar with a 12-page criminal history.”
In fact, Stephens’ father, not Stephens, was the court-appointed attorney for the defendant in the 1988 case. And in the other instance, Stephens ordered a new trial after a six-person jury convicted the defendant even though the Constitution required a 12-person jury to do so. After Stephens complained, the Louisiana Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee publicly condemned Marchman’s ads in three separate statements.
In Holmes’ case, the commission found that Holmes failed to properly distribute filing fees to a constable, Floyd Davis, between 2019 and 2021. She also improperly charged Davis for payments owed to the clerk of court’s office, and failed to keep court filing fees in a separate account for the clerk’s office expenses.
As part of the settlement, Holmes agreed to pay nearly $2,000 in restitution to Davis and to consult with a certified public accountant to square up Davis’ future payments. She also agreed to cover the $821 cost of the commission’s investigation.
Secret rebukes less common, thanks to reforms
The full extent of Day’s legal missteps have remained under wraps until only recently. Though she was formally admonished in 2018 for the earlier contempt issues, the court does not treat such admonishments as discipline, and it was kept secret until the commission rapped her publicly for the more recent episode.
After 50 years of near-total secrecy in Judiciary Commission cases and the misconduct complaints that spawn them, the court took steps in 2020 to try to bring some transparency to the process for disciplining Louisiana judges. Among the changes was a limit of one secret admonishment every six years for district judges like Day.
A schoolteacher before she took to the law, Day beat out Hunter Greene, now a colleague on the family court bench, by a narrow 155 votes in a special election in 2011. She has faced no challenges to her seat. Day’s term ends in 2026.
The Louisiana Supreme Court has not yet scheduled a hearing on Day’s recommended discipline.