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In re Justice of Peace Jeff Sachse

Supreme Court of Louisiana

March 13, 2018

IN RE: JUSTICE OF THE PEACE JEFF SACHSE, WARD 1, LIVINGSTON PARISH, STATE OF LOUISIANA

         JUDICIARY COMMISSION OF LOUISIANA

          CRICHTON, J.

         This disciplinary proceeding was instituted by the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana ("Commission") against respondent, Justice of the Peace Jeff Sachse, Ward 1, Livingston Parish, State of Louisiana. The matter arose out of an anonymous complaint lodged against respondent in April 2013, alleging that he was arrested on several occasions for domestic abuse and simple battery of his now ex-wife, Lisa Rabalais. The Commission has alleged that respondent's conduct violated Canons 1 (a judge shall personally observe high standards of conduct so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary may be preserved) and 2A (a judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary) of the Code of Judicial Conduct. For the reasons set forth below, we find respondent has violated the aforementioned Canons as alleged by the Commission, suspend respondent without pay for six months, and order him to reimburse and pay to the Commission $3, 040.02 in costs.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Respondent, who is not a lawyer, was elected to the office of justice of the peace in September 1996. He has served continuously since that time. Respondent and his wife, Lisa Rabalais, were married in 1982 and are the parents of three adult children. On August 10, 2012, Ms. Rabalais moved out of the matrimonial domicile in Denham Springs. While Ms. Rabalais was packing her belongings into the car, the police were summoned to the home in response to complaints by Ms. Rabalais that respondent had grabbed her by the shirt to prevent her from leaving. On August 17, 2012, Ms. Rabalais filed a Petition for Protection from Domestic Abuse in the 21st Judicial District Court, citing the August 10th incident. She also alleged that respondent repeatedly contacted her after the incident "by phone[, ] email and 3rd parties to get [her] to talk to him" and that he also made "threats" through her places of employment "trying to find [her] to talk." [1]

         Based on Ms. Rabalais' petition, Judge M. Douglas Hughes issued a Temporary Restraining Order ("TRO") that directed respondent not to, among other things, "abuse, harass, stalk, follow, or threaten" Ms. Rabalais. The order also specifically directed respondent not to contact Ms. Rabalais, go within one hundred yards of her residence or her personally, and to stay away from her places of employment. The TRO was in effect from August 17, 2012 to November 17, 2012.[2]On August 27, 2012, respondent was personally served with a certified copy of the TRO. Respondent has admitted that he subsequently violated the TRO in the following instances:

(1) By installing a GPS tracking device on the community owned vehicle, a 2012 Chrysler 200, without Ms. Rabalais' knowledge or consent, in order to "aggravate" her;[3]
(2) On December 3, 2012, respondent was aware that Ms. Rabalais was working her second job as a personal care attendant for a handicapped person who lived in the Collins Place Subdivision, located in unincorporated Livingston Parish. After Ms. Rabalais left the client's home, respondent pulled into the subdivision in front of Ms. Rabalais' vehicle, got out of his vehicle, and attempted to speak to Ms. Rabalais. Respondent stated that "they needed to talk, " and then Ms. Rabalais drove away. Respondent's conduct violated La. R.S. 14:40.2, the statute defining stalking.[4] As a result of a complaint made to the Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office, respondent was arrested for stalking on December 4, 2012.
(3) On February 6, 2013, respondent took the community owned vehicle, a 2012 Chrysler 200, without the knowledge or consent of Ms. Rabalais, for the purpose of harassing her, [5] in violation of the statute defining stalking.

         Respondent is also charged with violating the TRO in the following instances, which are not admitted:

(1) The Carroll Baptist Church incident - at the time of the issuance of the TRO, Ms. Rabalais was employed as an instructor and bus driver for the Livingston Activity Center, a facility for handicapped adults. On September 7, 2012, well after respondent was personally served with the TRO, Ms. Rabalais drove some of the Center's clients to the Carroll Baptist Church. While she attempted to unlock the door to the church, Ms. Rabalais saw respondent slowly drive by in his older model Chevrolet pick-up truck. Ms. Rabalais ran inside, locked the church doors, concealed herself, and called the Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office. Ms. Rabalais' co-worker, Karen Watts, testified during the hearing that she was at the church at the time in question, saw respondent's truck, and witnessed Ms. Rabalais' reaction (though she did not actually see respondent). For his part, respondent denied that he was intentionally following or stalking Ms. Rabalais. Instead, respondent testified that he was on the way to his attorney's office when, by coincidence, he saw Ms. Rabalais at the church. Though he described the encounter as pure coincidence, respondent admitted in his sworn statement that he knew that, as a part of her job, Ms. Rabalais escorts her clients to the Carroll Baptist Church.[6]
(2) The Los Sombreros incident - on October 25, 2012, as Ms. Rabalais was leaving the Los Sombreros Mexican Restaurant, located in a strip mall shopping center in Walker, respondent spoke to her and said, "Hey Lisa, funny seeing you here." Ms. Rabalais' friend and co-worker, Velda Thornton, was present and agreed with Ms. Rabalais' version of events. Respondent testified that he saw Ms. Rabalais' car in the parking lot and, after he thought about it, decided to leave the area because of the TRO. He then saw Ms. Rabalais and decided to say something to her. He testified, "I can't swear to exactly what I said, but I'm going to paraphrase and say, hey, I'm leaving. Basically, I was letting her know that if she was - you know, had other things to do here, another little shop to go in or whatever, to tend to it, I'm leaving, you don't have to worry about me." (It should be noted that respondent purchased the GPS tracking device prior to this incident. Nevertheless, he denied that he used the GPS device to track Ms. Rabalais to the restaurant.)
(3) On February 21, 2013, respondent sat in the Chrysler 200 vehicle along Ms. Rabalais' bus route with a large sign in the front passenger window which read, "Please Call Me." After Ms. Rabalais drove past, respondent pulled up alongside her in an effort to ensure that Ms. Rabalais viewed the sign. On February 26, 2013, only five days later, Ms. Rabalais was traveling on her bus route when respondent once again pulled in front of her while the bus was idling in the turn lane of Highway 190 at Juban Road. In his testimony, respondent denied either incident ever happened. Based on the February 21, 2013 incident, Ms. Rabalais signed an affidavit of probable cause to support the issuance of a warrant for respondent's arrest for stalking. Respondent was arrested on February 27, 2013.

         On June 20, 2013, respondent was charged with simple battery of Ms. Rabalais and simple robbery of Ms. Rabalais' friend, Velda Thornton, based on events that occurred on August 10, 2012, when Ms. Thornton assisted Ms. Rabalais in moving out of the matrimonial domicile.[7] Based on these charges, special conditions were added to respondent's bond, ordering that he have "no contact" with Ms. Thornton or Ms. Rabalais. The following incidents occurred after the "no contact" order was added to respondent's bond:

(a) On October 9, 2013, respondent blew his horn and was near Ms. Rabalais when she was driving a client home near Caraway Road.
(b) On October 17, 2013, Ms. Rabalais was once again driving her bus when she noticed respondent traveling in the same direction.
(c) On November 18, 2013, Ms. Velda Thornton was driving Ms. Rabalais' bus route when she had to slam her brakes to avoid a collision with a brown Chevrolet. She identified the driver as respondent.
(d) On January 25, 2014, Ms. Rabalais observed respondent staring at her while she was putting a package in her vehicle at Nawlin's Sports.
(e) On February 7, 2014, respondent approached Ms. Rabalais in a Wal-Mart in Central, Louisiana and said, "I promise I didn't know you were here and I am leaving now."
(f) On February 20, 2014, respondent followed Ms. Rabalais for approximately two miles while she was driving her regular bus route.

         For all of these incidents, Ms. Rabalais made a report to the proper police department.

         DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS

         As mentioned previously, an anonymous complaint was lodged against respondent in April, 2013, and a news report of recent felony arrests was posted on the website of The Livingston Parish News on July 7, ...


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