BATON ROUGE, La. — A south Louisiana sheriff isn’t entitled to have his criminal case reassigned to the federal judge who was mysteriously pulled off the high-profile case without explanation, Justice Department prosecutors argued Wednesday.
Last week, a federal appeals court asked prosecutors to respond to Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal’s claim that U.S. District Judge Patricia Minaldi was improperly removed from his civil rights case. Her removal occurred four days after an unusual interruption in Minaldi’s courtroom, during a routine hearing related to the Justice Department’s case against Ackal and 11 of his subordinates.
Prosecutors urged the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to deny Ackal’s petition to have the case transferred back to Minaldi. But their 20-page court filing Wednesday didn’t shed any light on why she was removed in March.
Chief Judge Dee Drell, of the Western District of Louisiana, didn’t explain in his one-sentence orders why he reassigned the cases against Ackal and his subordinates to U.S. District Judge Donald Walter.
The 5th Circuit also invited Drell to respond to Ackal’s petition by Thursday. As of Wednesday afternoon, Drell hadn’t submitted his own response.
Four days before Minaldi’s removal from the cases, she was in the middle of accepting guilty pleas by two former sheriff’s deputies when a prosecutor cut her off mid-sentence and asked to speak to a defense attorney. Then, after a short break and private discussion with the attorneys, Minaldi adjourned the March 7 hearing in Lake Charles without giving a reason on the record.
Those two former deputies pleaded guilty later that day in Lafayette, more than 70 miles away, in front of Drell. At the start of those proceedings, Drell noted that the hearing before Minaldi was “unable to be completed” but didn’t specify a reason.
Ackal’s attorney, John McLindon, argued Minaldi’s removal violated court rules and apparently was done without her consent. McLindon also is challenging Walter’s decision to hold Ackal’s trial in Shreveport instead of Lafayette, where the case originated.
Prosecutors, however, argued Ackal doesn’t have a “clear and indisputable” right to have Minaldi reassigned to the case or to have it tried in Lafayette.