On Saturday, October 21, 2023, 7KPLC reported that the Louisiana Supreme Court publicly censured Judge Michael Canaday of Calcasieu Parish and ordered him to pay costs relating to a misconduct investigation. The censure stems from Judge Canaday’s handling of a high-profile 1988 murder case, State v. Bartie.
In 1988, Rose Born was tragically killed by Dennis Jerome Bartie at her doughnut shop in Lake Charles. However, it would be almost 30 years before a suspect was brought to justice for the crime. The case remained unsolved for an extended period until Bartie’s arrest in 2016. Currently, Bartie is serving a prison sentence for attempted second-degree murder, unrelated to the case in question.
Bartie’s case was assigned to Judge Michael Canaday in the 14th Judicial District Court. In 2019, as the case moved forward, Judge Canaday presided over several crucial hearings. The hearings centered around Bartie’s request for the court to declare him indigent, meaning he lacked financial means and was entitled to state-funded defense resources. As these hearings discussed defense strategy, transcripts were sealed to protect Bartie’s right to a fair trial.
However, Judge Canaday’s handling of the case came under scrutiny. He began exchanging improper text messages and emails with a staff member at the Calcasieu Parish District Attorney’s Office regarding appeals in the ongoing case. In one text, Judge Canaday indicated he would unseal transcripts from the closed indigency hearings if the DA’s office appealed. This implied they had special influence with the court.
Sure enough, the DA’s office quickly filed a motion to unseal all the transcripts, including those containing private defense discussions. On the same day and without notifying Bartie’s attorneys or allowing time to respond, Judge Canaday signed an order granting the DA’s request. This breach in protocol damaged the appearance of an unbiased judiciary.
Bartie’s defense attorneys argued Judge Canaday could no longer fairly preside over the case due to his inappropriate conduct. Both the Third Circuit and the Louisiana Supreme Court agreed, removing Canaday from the proceedings.
A formal investigation by Louisiana’s Judiciary Commission then uncovered Canaday’s misconduct. This included not only the texts and improper order but also releasing sealed documents without a hearing. The Louisiana Supreme Court, which has authority over disciplinary matters, agreed and issued a public censure. Judge Canaday was also ordered to pay $1,690.25 in costs.
Judge Canaday admitted to and apologized for his misconduct and stated that he will now implement safeguards like including opposing counsel in all case communications.