Attorney seeks new rulings after judge’s recusal in Archdiocese of New Orleans bankruptcy

NEW ORLEANS (LA) [New Orleans, LA]

May 9, 2023

By Stephanie Riegel

An attorney who represents survivors of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of New Orleans bankruptcy is asking a newly appointed federal judge to toss out rulings from U.S. District Judge Greg Guidry, who recused himself from the case last month amid questions about his ties to the Roman Catholic church.

Guidry, who as a district court judge was tasked with hearing appeals related to the bankruptcy case, recused himself April 28 after the Associated Press reported that he had donated $50,000 to local Catholic charitable organizations.

In court documents filed Monday, New Orleans attorney Richard Trahant asked Guidry’s successor in the case, U.S. District Judge Barry Ashe, to vacate two rulings by Guidry because of the circumstances surrounding his recusal.

In court documents, Trahant argued that the rulings, which had affirmed earlier rulings of U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Meredith Grabill, “could undermine the public’s confidence in the judicial process…(and) convey a message…that the nearly 500 sexual abuse survivors with claims against the archdiocese are unable to find a find a fair forum in federal court.”

Trahant’s motion, which can be challenged by attorneys for the archdiocese, appears to be the first of what could be multiple attempts to upend earlier rulings by Guidry — a process likely to drag out a three-year bankruptcy case that’s shown no signs of settling any time soon.

The archdiocese declined to comment.

Fines and sanctions

The archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2020, and since then nearly 500 people have put in claims for compensation based on alleged abuse at the hands of priests or other clergy.

The rulings at issue in the latest court filings were rendered by Grabill, who is presiding over the case, and center on Trahant, who represents multiple sex abuse survivors.

In 2022, Grabill sanctioned Trahant and fined him $400,000 for allegedly leaking confidential information in the case, a claim he denied. She also removed four of his clients from the committee of unsecured creditors, which represents abuse survivors in the bankruptcy proceedings.  

Trahant appealed Grabill’s rulings to Guidry, who affirmed them this spring. Trahant asked for a rehearing but Guidry recused himself before he could rule on that request.

Charitable donations

Guidry, a former Louisiana Supreme Court Justice, recused himself after the AP reported he donated $50,000 in leftover campaign contributions to the Catholic Community Foundation and other organizations, and also that he served as a board member of New Orleans Catholic Charities.

In court documents, Guidry said he did not think recusal was mandated but that he wanted to “avoid any possible appearance of personal bias or prejudice.”

Trahant, in his motion requesting that Ashe throw out Guidry’s rulings, argued that “the extensive national and international media coverage of the so-called ‘donations scandal’ exposes the extent to which the public might reasonably question Judge Guidry’s impartiality.”

“Vacating the opinion and judgement is necessary to restore public confidence in the judicial process,” he added.

Guidry is one of six federal district judges in New Orleans to recuse himself from hearing appeals and related matters in the case.