Mistrial declared in armed robbery case where judges switched

Anthony Strong (Source: RPSO)

RAPIDES PARISH, La. (KALB) - A mistrial has been declared in an armed robbery case in Rapides Parish that found itself in the Third Circuit Court of Appeal this week when the judge assigned to the case decided to switch workloads with another judge.

Chad Guillot represents Anthony Strong, who is charged with armed robbery. That case has been assigned to division B, which belongs to Judge Chris Hazel. The trial was supposed to begin this week.

But, when Judge Hazel was sworn in on Monday, the decision was made to swap cases with Judge Greg Beard, who is assigned to division G, moving workloads between judges.

In an objection filed by Guillot and heard before Judge Beard on Monday, Guillot argued that the "only the division B judge can hear any matters unless the case is transferred or consolidated according to the Local Rules of Court." Guillot also argued that in order to properly transfer a case to another division, "a show cause hearing" must be held before an ad hoc judge.

This argument circles around what is called "random allotment," which essentially prevents a judge from cherry picking a case or allowing in bias to ensure a fair outcome.

Beard denied Guillot's effort to stop the case from switching judges. So, Guillot appealed to the Third Circuit.

On Tuesday, the Third Circuit granted a stay until the 9th JDC in Rapides Parish had time to respond. On Wednesday, it made a decision.

The Third Circuit agreed with Guillot, in part, allowing his case to stay with Judge Hazel. But, Guillot had also requested the Third Circuit to make a decision about all other cases that would be switched between the judges as well. The Third Circuit denied that effort for "lack of standing," essentially saying that individual attorneys would have to take it up on a case by case basis.

On Thursday morning, in the midst of jury selection for Strong's trial, a mistrial was declared and the potential jurors were dismissed. Because the case was supposed to be assigned to Judge Hazel and Judge Beard started jury selection, both the defense and the state agreed to start over and declare a mistrial. Judge Hazel assigned a new trial date of January 28.

News Channel 5 has also been told that, given the Third Circuit ruling in the Strong case, the decision has been made in Rapides Parish to rescind the initial order that switched the divisions.