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.

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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.

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  1. Was his Daughter struggling by with a minimal GPA? With all this Recusal talk, how could ANY Judge rule on anything? After all, some Family/Friend might benefit. Did he take the job, for just this case? How many Judges hands are clean? This seems like counting angels on the head of a pin.

    1. Bullbleep. He knew his daughter would benefit.

    2. He’s been on the court for nearly twenty years and if he took the job just so his five year old daughter could someday skip the bar exam after graduating law school, well that’s one heck of a commitment!

  2. I wonder what was her class standing and the proportion of previous classes that passed the Louisiana Bar Exam?
    If she was at the top of her class I don’t see a problem.

  3. Absolutely appalling. It’s like the “easy” ethics question you give, before starting to ask students about debatable issues. Ethics 101 says that you recuse when a case directly impacts a family member. Not because you can’t be fair, but because of the APPEARANCE of bias.

    Given the judge’s position; one assumes a close-to-zero chance of a meaningful ethics investigation.

    1. I wouldn’t be so sure there won’t be consequences — if he was elected to a 10-year term in 2012, that would mean he is up for re-election in 2 years…

      From his bio — you’ll love this: “Prior to taking the bench, Justice Weimer was a full-time faculty member at Nicholls State University where he taught law and ethics classes.”

      https://www.lasc.org/About/Biography?p=John_L._Weimer

    2. I would find this position a lot more compelling if there were a “case” involved here.

    3. Ethics 101 says that you recuse when a case directly impacts a family member. Not because you can’t be fair, but because of the APPEARANCE of bias.

      Yeah, except that there’s no case, and nobody to be “fair” or not fair to, nobody to be biased, or appear to be biased, for or against. It’s not an adversarial proceeding.

      If there’s a proposal to reduce the fines for parking violations in a city, does a city councilman have to abstain from voting because his family members often drive cars in the city and therefore could benefit from reduced fines?

      1. Louisiana’s Code of Judicial Conduct: A judge shall not allow family, social, political, or other relationships to influence judicial conduct or judgment.

        Your counterexample regarding family members driving cars if a councilman sets parking fines is totally unlike a situation where a judge’s daughter has a particular and unusual amount of interest in a very valuable credential he only granted to her specific class of people.

        We have DP in other states, but Louisiana’s is probably the worst version. They give zero consumer protection. Wisconsin only grants DP to students who passed classes with specific state law curriculum. Utah only grants DP if you went to a particularly good law school (with a bar passage better than the Utah average). Louisiana grants DP to anyone who happened to sign up at the point in time this judge’s daughter did. It’s not like law graduates from other states with cancelled bar exams can sign up and get DP, even if they had top grades at an excellent school, and even if they passed a bar exam in July.

        That’s pretty weird in my opinion. The bar exam is intended to protect the least savvy consumer of legal services, the indigent needing 6th amendment access to reasonably competent counsel, the elderly needing a will, etc. And the administration of the field is also intended to properly run a professional license so it’s still valuable (in a rough economy). This judge’s decision may not have been over an adversarial proceeding but there are far more losers than winners in this outcome, and if his decision was the right one, it’s weird that almost no other state did a similar thing, and the decision was so split. Weirder still since Louisiana could probably give some kind of online bar exam (perhaps open book) just to satisfy every interest.

        Bear in mind there is at least one LA school where most students fail the bar exam. The risk isn’t just theoretical.

  4. Corruption in Louisiana? Say it aint so

  5. Would a legislator be required to abstain if they had a child in this position? I think the answer is clearly know.

    This wasn’t a legal opinion. They weren’t ruling on the law. They were using their supervisory power over the bar. This was rule making. That doesn’t require recusal.

    1. That comparison is unsatisfying since a 3-3 split decision is very different from several hundred voting on policy. Legislators do need to avoid some conflicts, but they aren’t striving to avoid the appearance of bias. If it was an easy call and this judge’s bias made no difference, why not just recuse, let someone else make the ‘right’ call, and then scratch your head why almost the entire country did the opposite thing?

  6. So much for adhering to the appearance of being unbiased as well as the fact…

  7. You wouldn’t know it from the article but Weimer’s the chief justice.

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