The Volokh Conspiracy

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Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Who Cast Deciding Vote For Diploma Privilege Has Daughter Who Will Receive Diploma Privilege

Justice Wiemer said he did not need to recuse, or disclose the fact that his daughter was scheduled to take the bar exam.


Two weeks ago, I blogged about the Louisiana Supreme Court's decision that approved a modified diploma privilege. At the time, the Court only had six members. An ad hoc member was added. And the Court sharply divided 4-3. Now, we learn that one of the members of the majority had a potential conflict of interest. Justice John Weimer's daughter was a 2020 LSU graduate. Therefore, she is now eligible to receive the diploma privilege her father approved. Justice Weimer did not recuse, or disclose his conflict of interest.

From the Times-Picayune | The Advocate:

In response to written questions that The Times-Picayune | The Advocate sent to the Louisiana Supreme Court, Weimer did not explain directly whether he disclosed his daughter's situation to his colleagues on the Supreme Court bench before the vote, and there's no way for the public to know from court records whether he did.

The Supreme Court declined to provide details on any discussions that took place by videoconference among the seven justices that day. But in a statement, Weimer confirmed that his daughter did indeed benefit from the ruling, but said it didn't matter.

"The July 22 Louisiana Supreme Court Announcement Regarding the 2020 Bar Examination addresses the factors which went into my decision about the bar examination," Weimer wrote. "I would vote the same had my daughter not been a bar applicant because that was the most prudent decision during the escalating pandemic in Louisiana. I disclosed the fact my daughter is a law school graduate to anyone I spoke to regarding the exam."

His statement did not say who he spoke to about his daughter, and a Supreme Court spokesman said they had no further comment when asked to clarify the meaning of his statement.

I find this situation very troubling. First, it is unclear whether Weimer asked his colleagues what they thought about his conflict of interest. If there was any doubt, he should have at least broached the issue. Second, I think it is a safe assumption that the other members of the Court would have known that Weimer's daughter was graduating from law school. That milestone is a big deal, three years in the making. Even if Weimer did not bring up the issue, his colleagues should have recognized the conflict–and addressed it. Third, if the members of the majority knew about the conflict–either from their knowledge about the daughter, or Weimer's disclosure–did they sign off on Weimer sitting? Keep in mind, the Court was already short-handed. There may have been a concern about adding yet another ad hoc judge. But this is not like the Supreme Court of the United States where it is impossible to add members. The process seems easy enough. Fourth, did Weimer's colleagues rebuke him privately for failing to disclose that fact in conference? The published dissents did not mention this fact. Fifth, did Weimer's colleagues rebuke him for failing to disclose the conflict in the written opinion?

Weimer appears to have messed up here.