St. Charles Parish District Judge Michele Morel has stepped down from a juvenile rape case after reporting that she and a family member have received threatening phone calls and messages due to attention garnered from her outburst in court.
Morel’s decision to step aside from the case came only four days after she refused to do so at the request of the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office. The Attorney General’s Office accused Morel of violating state law by forcing the alleged 10-year-old victim to leave the courtroom, which also identified the victim to the public.
After having a deputy escort the young girl from the courtroom, Morel had harsh words for the victim-witness coordinator that brought the girl to court.
“For the record, for future reference, right now, and I’m going to state this for the record, my blood is boiling that the 10-year-old victim is here, alleged victim, with the alleged perpetrator in the courtroom... I am just appalled that if this child is such a victim - No ma’am, look at me because right now I’m very mad at you. I am appalled that this child is here today. This is for everybody. Everybody in the courtroom, the victims, if they are 10 years old, of alleged aggravated rape and aggravated incest, if they really had this happen, I find it highly unlikely and I find it really disgusting that you would bring the child in the presence of the alleged perpetrator.”
Morel stood by her original decision to stay on the case because she says she did nothing wrong. The girl’s mother was allowed to stay in the courtroom and Morel said she never identified the girl by name.
However, she said the threats forced her to reconsider.
“The undersigned judge stands by her previous written reasons filed in response to the Attorney General’s Motion to recuse, events of the last five days have created an environment in which the impartiality of the proceedings might be reasonably questioned,” Morel wrote.
The Herald-Guide contacted the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office about the threats early Monday morning. In response to questions posed by the Herald-Guide, the Sheriff’s Office sent out a release Monday afternoon that said they were unaware of the exact nature of the threats and that they knew very little about the situation.
Spokesman Capt. Pat Yoes said the Sheriff’s Office reached out to Morel on Friday, but did not hear back from her office until Monday.
“A staff member with Judge Morel’s office called on behalf of Judge Morel and advised “Judge Morel appreciates our concern, but there was nothing the Sheriff’s Office could do,”” he said.
Without any specific knowledge of the threats and Morel’s reluctance to speak with them directly, Yoes said they cannot begin an investigation.
“It is kind of hard for us to investigate the threat if we don’t know what the threat is,” he said.
Yoes said the Sheriff’s Office is ready and willing to begin an investigation.
“We are prepared to vigorously investigate these reported threats and are hopeful that Judge Morel will provide information necessary to initiate an investigation. We take very seriously any threats made to members of the judiciary,” he said.