Judge's Intervention for Pedophile Raising Questions
Ex-Priest Benefits from Free Legal Help, Special Treatment in Prison
November 1, 1998
It was a distinguished group that met for lunch at Shreveport's Petroleum Club one day in 1997.
Foremost was Judge Henry Politz, head of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and one of the country's most respected jurists. He was joined by the chief of the Louisiana prison system, several attorneys and one other man, a guest of Politz's.
The guest was middle-aged, small, quiet, inconspicuous in any crowd and obscure beside the garrulous Politz.
He was Gilbert Gauthe, former priest and ex-convict and one of the nation's most infamous pedophiles, a man who had molested hundreds of boys before his arrest in 1985.
He was a man who but for good fortune, influence and expert legal counsel would have been eating his lunch from a steel counter in state prison rather than a linen tablecloth in the Petroleum Club.
He was a man who owed a great deal to Judge Henry Politz.
Gauthe would seem an odd choice as a dinner companion for a federal judge, particularly one who had been a member of the Judicial Conference of the United States and its Committee on Codes of Conduct, the national ethics committee for federal judicial officers and employees.
Seemingly, they have only the southern Louisiana town of Napoleonville in common. In that rural area, the two men's families worked as sharecroppers for generations.
There, the similarities end. Politz, Gauthe's senior by 12 years, is a powerful, well-educated raconteur, a family man with 11 children who was divorced in the early 1990s, and a man with a record so spotless that he was once considered as a potential nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.
Gauthe, an introvert who never attained a college degree, is a failed priest, a criminal with a past so horrendous that he has been called a monster.
On the day that he joined Politz's group in the Petroleum Club, it had been only a little more than a decade since Gauthe had shocked the nation when he was exposed for seducing and assaulting scores of Louisiana altar boys. It was less than a year since he had been convicted in another child abuse case in Texas.
Moreover, Gauthe had become notorious when it was shown that church officials were aware of his pedophilia and had moved him from one parish to another whenever his abuses became known.
Despite those dissimilarities, more recent developments - a deposition given by Gauthe on Oct. 5 in a civil lawsuit and an investigation by the Houston Chronicle culminating in an interview with Politz - have shed some light on why two seemingly disparate individuals would be socializing in public.
These developments give some indication of the depth of the relationship between the 64-year-old federal judge and the 54-year-old pedophile.
That relationship reaches back at least to 1985, when Gauthe was arrested in Abbeville, La., and became the first of a number of such priests throughout the country. His conviction on 34 counts of child molestation began an avalanche of civil lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Church that continues today.
Luck and the Catholic Church had kept him out of jail for years. He had been an active pedophile since his youth, when both he and his younger brother, Richard, a Boy Scout leader, had molested scores of children. Richard Gauthe, who had been ousted from the Air Force and the Scouts for abusing children, had subsequently married a woman with three children in the late 1970s and, according to her, molested all three.
Richard Gauthe's former wife, Dixie Diez, said she had caught him molesting her son in 1980, years before Gilbert's arrest, and forced a confession from him.
"Richard told me both he and Gilbert had been doing this for years," she said. "I knew Gilbert was a priest and had access to all those kids and I tried to turn him in, but the police didn't believe me. They said that, even if it was true, what I knew was hearsay and they couldn't arrest him."
Richard Gauthe was eventually convicted and jailed for molesting children in Great Britain. Gilbert, however, would remain free for five years after his sister-in-law alerted police to him.
Yet Gilbert Gauthe was more than just a luncheon guest of Henry Politz's. He has been under the judge's protective wing for more than 12 years.
Politz has intervened in Gauthe's criminal cases and has been a regular visitor to him in prison. The judge has arranged for the best attorneys to represent the child molester in three of his four criminal cases, all at no charge. Politz has squired Gauthe to social functions, interceded with police on his behalf and loaned him money.
By Gauthe's own account, Politz is his "legal and moral" counselor. By Politz's account, he has simply assisted a younger man whose grandfather befriended Politz's widowed mother.
Some believe that assistance has gone too far.
It began as soon as Gauthe was convicted the first time. That conviction was to have sent Gauthe to prison where he was to receive Depo-Provera, a sexual inhibitor, and serve 20 years without parole or early release. Ray Mouton, Gauthe's attorney at the time and the man who drew up the plea bargain, believed that is what would happen, as did the children Gauthe had molested.
Then Politz entered the case.
Gauthe had already been convicted when Mouton first heard of Henry Politz. At the time, Mouton was attempting to have Gauthe transferred from Wade Correctional Center in Homer, La., to serve his sentence in a medical facility in Maryland.
"On several occasions Gauthe mentioned that there was a judge from his hometown who could help us, and he wanted me to call the judge," said Mouton. "I ignored the information and must have mentioned to Gauthe that we needed no help.
"Gilbert called me a number of times from Wade, insisting I contact Judge Henry Politz, who Gauthe said could help him. When I failed to contact the judge, Politz got in touch with me and I told him we didn't need his help.
"At this point I was confused because I felt it is a violation of judicial and legal ethics for a federal judge to be personally involved in the affairs of a state prisoner whose appeal might well come before his court."
Later, said Mouton, he learned that Politz had ordered a transcript of the case. Mouton then spoke to the district attorney, the late Nathan Stansbury, and learned that Politz had visited Stansbury and discussed overturning Gauthe's plea on grounds that Mouton was incompetent counsel.
"Then (Stansbury) said Judge Politz told him he had talked with the bishop in Lafayette, the archbishop in New Orleans, Paul Phelps (former head of the state prison system) and Gov. Edwin Edwards about Gauthe.
"In my mind it was clear that whatever was going on was wrong," Mouton said. "I wrote a letter to both Gauthe and Judge Politz and I quit, withdrew as Gauthe's attorney and never again had any contact with either Gauthe or the judge."
By that time, Gauthe no longer wanted to be moved from Wade where Richard Stalder, current head of the state prison system and a man who describes Politz as "a friend and a mentor," was then warden.
Gauthe was given special status there. Despite the terms of his conviction, he was never given Depo-Provera at Wade. He was housed in a maximum-security area where he was assigned one of the few air-conditioned rooms in the building as his "office."
It was a glass enclosure in which he did oil painting and made signs for Stalder; those paintings soon covered the windows, hiding Gauthe from view. Behind those paintings, current and former guards say, Gauthe was allowed to carry on sexual trysts with teen-age prisoners he chose as assistants. He was given his pick among the juveniles who had been tried as adults and were housed in Wade's maximum-security area.
Periodically, Gauthe would be visited by Politz and Monsignor Murray Clayton of Shreveport, La. The pair became regular visitors to Gauthe and the late Robert Melancon, another convicted pedophile priest who has since died of AIDS (SEE CORRECTION). Also present during those meetings were Gauthe's friends, murderer [name redacted], who was one of Gauthe's teen-age assistants, and [name redacted], an adult prisoner then serving time for robbery.
In addition, Gauthe's favorable treatment extended beyond the walls of Wade. He was granted extended furloughs to visit his ailing mother. These furloughs ranged from weeks to a month, during which he spent his nights in the Napoleonville jail and his days at his mother's bedside.
According to prison guards, Gauthe was exempt from many of the rules in Wade. Several of those officers requested anonymity, although one, retired Lt. Greg Faust, said he conducted a search of Gauthe's office.
"I had written him up at least 20 times for various violations," said Faust, "mostly putting his hands on other prisoners, fondling them in the halls, and nothing happened.
"Officers would tell him to keep his hands off the other prisoners and he'd just look at you and tell you to leave him alone.
"Then, one night, several of us decided to have a look in that office of his."
In a desk, said Faust, he found pornographic cartoons drawn by Gauthe and a plastic bag filled with pubic hair.
"I stapled the bag and the drawings to an infraction report and turned it in," said Faust. "Not only did nothing happen to Gauthe, the next day I was told (by a superior officer) to stay out of his personal effects."
Nor did Gauthe spend 20 years or even half that time in prison. With the aid of attorneys secured by Politz, Gauthe was released in 1995 after serving less than nine years.
That release was based on good-time credit of two days for each day actually served, a policy instituted by the state shortly before Gauthe's conviction. In Gauthe's case, however, his lawyer was seeking credit for more than a year that Gauthe had spent voluntarily being treated in a New England mental hospital at diocese expense prior to his conviction.
That request was first denied by Henry Goins, the records system administrator for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections.
By that time, Richard Stalder, Gauthe's former warden and Politz's friend, had been promoted to secretary of prisons. At the request of an attorney secured by Politz, Stalder ordered a special review of Gauthe's case, though he said he never ordered that the good-time credit be awarded.
Goins, however, subsequently gave Gauthe credit for the time spent in voluntary commitment in a mental hospital, two days good-time credit for each day served, and released him in September 1995.
Gauthe collected $ 15,000 in "retirement" pay from the Catholic Church and moved to the rural community of Ace, in Polk County, Texas, near Livingston. There he lived in a small house owned by his sister and posed as a retired paramedic.
He had been there only a few months when he struck up a friendship with Karen Munson, mother of a 3-year-old boy.
"He always wanted to paint my son," said the mother. "He wanted to put him in a pair of overalls and have him kneel as though he were praying and paint a picture of him."
When Gauthe asked to take the child for an ice cream cone, the boy's mother agreed. When they returned, the boy's pants were twisted and, upon questioning, he said Gauthe had fondled his genitals.
Munson called police, and Gauthe was arrested and charged with sexual assault of a child. It was July 19, 1996, less than a year after his release.
When he was taken to jail he made two phone calls, one to his sister in Houston and the other to Politz.
The sexual assault charge could have resulted in a lengthy sentence for a repeat offender, but not for Gauthe. Sheriff's deputies who arrested Gauthe learned that he was a convicted child molester from Louisiana, but Polk County's requests for Gauthe's records - rap sheets that showed his prior convictions - were ignored by Louisiana.
Polk County authorities made little effort to retrieve those records, however; no one was sent to Louisiana to get them. Ultimately, said prosecutor Lee Hon, the case was considered weak.
"The mother didn't want to put the child on the stand," he said. "Without him, we didn't have much."
So, despite having a videotape in which the boy, using an anatomically correct doll, described the fondling to a sheriff's investigator, prosecutors reduced the charge to "injury to a child."
In addition, Politz had arranged more free legal counsel for Gauthe: Marjorie Meyers, a public defender in Houston and a former clerk for Politz, and Robert C. Bennett, a well-known Houston attorney who most recently has defended Houston City Councilman John Castillo.
Bennett would not return repeated calls, and Meyers refused to comment about Gauthe.
Gauthe pleaded no contest to the reduced charge for a seven-year probationary sentence in March 1997 and moved to Waskom, just across from Shreveport on the Texas border.
He did not remain in Waskom, however, even though he maintained a house there. Instead, he lived in a house in Shreveport owned by Clayton and worked in the Shreveport jail as a paid counselor to sex offenders.
And during this time, he would visit Politz. Gauthe, in his deposition in a civil lawsuit arising from his assault of Munson's child in Polk County, said he would periodically "drop by" the judge's office to "chat."
In that deposition, taken by Munson's attorney, Tony Fontana of Lafayette, La., Gauthe described his relationship with Politz.
"He was the legal man that, you know . . . would know what to do," said Gauthe. "I rely on him a lot for, you know, not only legal advice, but a lot of just moral support, too."
Fontana then asked about any sexual relationship between the judge and Gauthe or Gauthe's friends, [name redacted] and [name redacted], in prison.
"No sir, absolutely. That would be - I mean, I don't understand where that's coming from," said Gauthe. "I mean, that would be impossible. You'd have to go to some kind of secluded area and we never were like that."
It also was during the period in 1997 when Gauthe was living in Shreveport that he accompanied Politz and Clayton to the opening of a new prison near Wade. There, he chatted with Stalder and stood by with various judicial dignitaries as a ribbon was cut to celebrate the opening of Forcht Wade Prison.
A few weeks later, however, New Orleans television station WWL began airing stories about Gauthe's release. As a result, Shreveport police began patrolling Gauthe's neighborhood regularly and eventually told him to leave the city.
That prompted a call from Politz to Shreveport Police Chief Stephen Prater, in which the judge told Prater, "This is not the Wild West. You can't order people out of town." Politz acknowledges making the call.
At the same time, Clayton wrote a letter of support for Gauthe to the Shreveport Times, defending both Gauthe and Politz.
Gauthe, wrote Clayton, had pleaded guilty to "something that never happened" in Polk County.
"No good, only evil has been generated by those responsible for the tragedy of this recent media feeding frenzy," wrote Clayton, who now refuses to return calls about Gauthe.
"A quiet, mild-mannered man struggling to redeem his life has been smashed down."
Then, a few weeks later, in December 1997, a new victim came forward, saying the "mild-mannered" Gauthe had raped her at gunpoint over the hood of a car when she was a child, 20 years before and a few years before the offenses for which Gauthe was convicted.
Lafayette Parish District Attorney Mike Harson charged Gauthe with rape.
The former priest learned of the charge while in Shreveport. Once again, after calling his family, the first person he called was Politz.
"He knew more about it than I did," said Gauthe in his civil deposition. "I told him, 'I'm going to go ahead and turn myself in.' "
Police, who were waiting at Gauthe's residence in Waskom, poised to arrest him and search his house for child pornography, left the neighborhood after learning he was in custody. With no warrant to serve, they lacked probable cause to search his home.
The next morning, Gauthe's neighbors in Waskom watched as a man driving a car registered to [name redacted], Gauthe's former prisonmate, arrived and removed a computer and several boxes.
[Name redacted], who later moved to Wyoming, could not be located for comment.
Subsequently an additional sexual assault charge, brought by a former altar boy, has been added to the rape case. Gauthe has been in the Lafayette Parish Jail since December.
Once again, however, he has been provided with expert legal representation at no fee. Jack Martzell, a New Orleans attorney who has represented a number of state legislators and once defended boxer Mohammed Ali, joined public defender Paul Marx on Gauthe's behalf.
That is only one aspect of Gauthe's case that has puzzled many, including Louisiana state Sen. Donald Cravins, who headed a committee investigating the Louisiana prison system.
The committee questioned prison system administrators and others connected to the Gauthe case. But, lacking subpoena power and the authority to demand sworn testimony, it never succeeded in questioning Politz.
The committee also reached few conclusions.
"In every instance in which the rules could be applied or bent in Gilbert Gauthe's favor, they have been," said Cravins.
"The question is, 'Why?' We never succeeded in finding the answer."
Shortly after beginning a probe of the Gauthe case, Cravins was removed as head of the committee with the admonition that he was not "reform-minded."
"I think the Gauthe business contributed to that," he said. "But I couldn't prove it."
Others wonder why a judge who once helped decide ethical conduct for the entire federal judiciary would choose to protect a pariah.
Politz is a giant in his state's legal community, a former president of the Louisiana Trial Lawyers Association, an officeholder on numerous boards and a man in whose name a scholarship has been established at the Louisiana State University law school.
It puzzles Professor Robert Shurwurck of the University of Houston's School of Law. Shurwurck believes Politz's actions could be a violation of the American Bar Association's Code of Ethics.
That code prohibits a judge from "lending the prestige of the office to advance the private interests of others."
Even in the event that Politz's association with Gauthe does violate the code, it would appear unlikely that any disciplinary action will follow. It notes that "although numerous dicta indicate that judges may be disciplined merely for 'close and intimate association' with criminals, there is no reported incidence of punishment ever being imposed in the absence of more palpable misconduct."
Ironically, the group that would determine such a violation is under the authority of the 5th Circuit, which Politz heads.
Politz's explanation does little to satisfy Shurwurck and others.
"My father and his grandfather sharecropped together in Napoleonville," said Politz. "When my father died at a very early age, Gilbert's grandfather befriended my mother.
"Gilbert's mother and my sister were best friends. It's as simple as that."
Politz said it was at his sister's request that he contacted Gauthe and that he'd never met the man before he was jailed.
The near certainty that Gauthe would molest children again if he had access to them is something the judge termed "a legitimate concern," but not a factor that has kept him from helping Gauthe gain freedom.
"That's the concern always about someone who has this problem," said Politz. "It's one that society's trying to find an answer to, and it's a difficult question."
But not one that prevents Politz from continuing his relationship with Gauthe.
"It's unbelievable that anyone who knows anything about Gilbert Gauthe would help set him free around children," said Jason Berry, author of "Lead Us Not Into Temptation," an exhaustive book about the Gauthe case.
"He's a monster."
Politz's interference angers Karen Munson and Gauthe's former lawyer, Ray Mouton, as well.
"My little boy didn't have the church and a federal judge to protect him," Munson said.
The boy has had continuing psychological and physical problems since his encounter with Gauthe, she added.
Mouton also said he cannot understand Politz's involvement with Gauthe.
"I know enough about Gilbert Gauthe and Judge Henry Politz to know that there is no apparent commonality between them," said Mouton. "I can't imagine a man in Politz's position - holding one of the highest judicial positions in the United States - extending aid and support to a serial child molester, acting in a way which enabled (him) to live in such a destructive pattern."
That pattern may well continue.
In a strange twist of circumstance, it appears that Mouton may be the one most instrumental in setting Gauthe free again. A judge has ruled that Mouton must testify for the prosecution in the current rape case against Gauthe, a case which is expected to come to trial in December.
When he does, said Mouton, he will have to testify that Gauthe was granted immunity for any cases which occurred prior to the ones listed in his original indictment.
"The one undisputable agreement which existed between the state and Gauthe, Stansbury and myself, is the explicit, clear, unmistakable understanding that no charges arising out of conduct which allegedly occurred prior to the indictment of Gauthe would ever be accepted by the district attorney and filed against Gauthe," said Mouton.
"Given that, these cases against him are no good."
Mouton has little doubt that, once freed, his former client will molest again.
"I don't know what his relationship with Judge Politz is or what the history of that relationship is, (but) I feel Judge Henry Politz has a lot to answer for.
"It seems in helping Gauthe so much, Politz did not help him at all."
1. Napoleonville, La.: Hometown of former priest Gilbert Gauthe and federal appeals Judge Henry Politz.
2. 1972-77: Gauthe molests altar boys, Boy Scouts and other children while serving St. John's and St. James Catholic churches in Broussard, New Iberia, Abbeville, Esther and Henry.
3. Oct. 1984: Gauthe is indicted in Lafayette, La., for molesting half a dozen boys.
4. Oct. 1986: Under a plea bargain, Gauthe begins serving a 20-year sentence, with no chance of parole, in Wade Correctional Center near Homer, La.
5. Sept. 1995: Gauthe is released from prison 11 years early. He moves to Polk County, Texas, to the tiny community of Ace, 19 miles south of Livingston.
6. July 1996: Gauthe is charged by Polk County authorities with molesting a 3-year-old neighbor boy. He pleads no contest to a non-sexual charge of injury to a child and gets seven years probation.
7. April 1997: Gauthe moves to Waskom, Texas.
8. Dec. 1997-present: Gauthe awaits trial in Lafayette Parish Jail for an alleged rape of a young woman years earlier.
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