On Friday, April 21, America Magazine reported that U.S. District Judge Greg Guidry has been discovered to have donated tens of thousands of dollars to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans. Interestingly, Guidry consistently ruled in favor of the church in a highly contentious bankruptcy case involving nearly 500 clergy sex abuse victims. This revelation raises concerns about a potential conflict of interest that could disrupt the entire case.

Upon being confronted with these previously unreported findings by the Associated Press (AP), Judge Guidry promptly arranged a conference call with the attorneys involved in the bankruptcy case. During the call, he acknowledged that his charitable contributions had been brought to his attention and stated that he is now contemplating recusing himself from his role overseeing the prominent bankruptcy in an appellate capacity.

Judge Guidry assured the attorneys that he would refrain from taking any further action in the case until the issue of his potential conflict of interest had been resolved satisfactorily.

The AP’s investigation into Guidry and other judges involved in the New Orleans bankruptcy highlights the close relationship between the city’s power structure and the Catholic Church. This close association is exemplified by the fact that executives from the NFL’s New Orleans Saints reportedly provided undisclosed advice to the archdiocese regarding public relations strategies during the peak of the clergy abuse scandal.

The timing of these revelations is particularly sensitive, as the attorneys involved in the bankruptcy case are currently striving to gain access to a vast collection of confidential church documents. These documents, which number in the thousands, have been generated through lawsuits and an ongoing FBI investigation into clergy abuse spanning several decades in New Orleans. It is worth noting that Judge Guidry had previously rejected at least one request to unseal some of these documents.

In light of these circumstances, ethics experts have strongly recommended that Judge Guidry recuse himself without delay to preserve the integrity of the legal proceedings and ensure that the case proceeds without any doubts about fairness or impartiality. The importance of maintaining public trust in the judicial system is paramount, and recusal is seen as a necessary measure to uphold these principles.

Keith Swisher, a University of Arizona legal ethics professor said, “It would create a mess and a cloud of suspicion over every ruling he’s made,” and described Guidry’s donations as “more like fire than smoke.”

According to an investigation conducted by the AP, it has revealed that since his nomination to the federal bench in 2019 by then-Preseident Donal Trump, Guidy has made substantial donations to local Catholic charities. AP’s review of campaign finance records indicates that Guidry contributed nearly $50,000 to these charities using remaining funds from campaign contributions he received after serving as a Louisiana Supreme Court justice for 10 years.

A significant portion of these donations, amounting to $36,000, was made in the months following the Roman Catholic Archdiocese’s filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May 2020 amidst a flood of sexual abuse lawsuits. Notably, in September 2020, on the same day as a series of bankruptcy filings, Guidry donated $12,000 to the archdiocese’s Catholic Community Foundation. Furthermore, in July of the following year, he made an additional $14,000 contribution to the same charity.

Judge Greg Guidry’s philanthropy extends beyond his official campaign donations, as he and his wife have been recognized as donors by Catholic Charities of New Orleans. The newsletters issued by the charitable arm of the archdiocese acknowledged their contributions, though the specific amounts were not disclosed. Between 2000 and 2008, Judge Guidry also offered pro bono services and served on the board of Catholic Charities, a period when the archdiocese was dealing with earlier instances of sex abuse lawsuits. Notably, Catholic Charities was involved in at least one multimillion-dollar settlement related to abuse at local orphanages.

Interestingly, within a year of these contributions, he issued rulings that shifted the course of the bankruptcy case in favor of the archdiocese. These rulings included upholding the removal of certain members from a committee representing victims seeking compensation from the church. The plaintiffs had voiced concerns about the lack of transparency in the case and argued that the archdiocese’s primary motive for seeking bankruptcy protection was to minimize payouts. Notably, the archdiocese was reported to have substantial financial reserves of over $160 million, as indicated by Moody’s rating agency.

Indiana University professor, Charles Gevh, said Judge Guidry’s strong religious beliefs alone should not automatically disqualify him from the case. However, Geyh argues that the judge’s substantial donations and close connections to the Catholic Church raise legitimate concerns about his ability to act as an impartial and fair referee in the matter. These factors, Geyh suggests, give rise to questions regarding Judge Guidry’s objectivity and his potential for a conflict of interest in the case.

In New Orleans, where Catholicism holds significant influence, Judge Guidry is not the only federal judge with longstanding connections to the archdiocese. Several of his colleagues have recused themselves from the bankruptcy or related legal proceedings. One such judge is Wendy Vitter, who previously served as general counsel for the archdiocese, defending it against numerous sex abuse claims. She was nominated to the federal bench by President Trump in 2018. Additionally, Judge Ivan Lemelle sits on the board of the Catholic Community Foundation.

U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey, who had previously acknowledged his involvement in a media relations campaign conducted by executives of the New Orleans Saints for the archdiocese, recused himself from cases related to the bankruptcy.

But less than a year ago, Zaney quietly invalidated a Louisiana law that was vehemently opposed by the archdiocese. This law established a “look-back window,” enabling sexual abuse victims to file lawsuits against the church and other institutions, regardless of how long ago the abuse had occurred.

Jack Adams, a survivor of clergy abuse and a former president of the Catholic Community Foundation, acknowledges that while the church may engage in good works, it raises concerns when judges are involved in cases related to the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

Jason Berry, an author who has extensively covered clergy abuse, including in his recent book on New Orleans, strongly criticizes the influence of the church on the city’s court system. He describes it as deeply troubling and questions whether justice has been compromised. Berry emphasizes that it is important to recognize the profound impact on the lives of the 500 individuals who have been victimized, a point that many people fail to fully grasp.

According to the National Capitol Reporter report, Judge Guidry has decided to recuse himself from the New Orleans bankruptcy case. Guidry explained in his April 28, 2023 order that his recusal was motivated by the desire to eliminate any appearance of favoritism or unfairness in the bankruptcy proceedings. By taking this action, he demonstrates his commitment to preserving the principles of impartiality and justice in the legal system.

In a statement released on May 1 by SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests), the recusal of Judge Guidry was deemed “the obvious and correct decision.” Additionally, SNAP called for a thorough examination of all of Judge Guidry’s cases involving the Archdiocese of New Orleans, suggesting that they should be carefully scrutinized and, if necessary, be re-litigated. SNAP expressed concerns about conflicts of interest that they believe the judge has had for an extended period.

SNAP’s statement applauds Judge Guidry’s recusal, viewing it as a necessary step to ensure fairness and impartiality. The organization’s call for a closer examination of the judge’s previous cases involving the Archdiocese of New Orleans reflects their desire to uphold justice and address any potential conflicts that may have affected the outcomes of those cases.


Source: America Magazine