Judge Terry Doughty – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana

The Western District of Louisiana is currently facing a judge shortage unlike any other district in the country.  Due to unexpected retirements, lingering vacancies, and the Republican-controlled 114th Congress’ refusal to confirm President Obama’s nominee to the court, the Western District (allotted seven active judges) is expected to fall to just two by the end of the year.  As such, President Trump’s nomination of Judge Terry Doughty to the court takes on greater importance.

Background

Terry Alvin Doughty was born on January 16, 1959 in Rayville, Louisiana.  Doughty received a Bachelor in Science at Louisiana Tech University in 1981, going straight to Louisiana State University Law Center, graduating with a J.D. in 1984.

In 1984, Doughty joined the Rayville law firm, Cotton, Bolton & Hoychick, as an associate.  The next year, Doughty joined the Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s Office as a part-time prosecutor.  In 1987, Doughty was promoted to be a partner, and the firm was renamed Cotton, Bolton, Hoychick & Doughty.

In 2008, Doughty was elected to a judgeship on Louisiana’s Fifth Judicial District.  He was re-elected in 2014, and currently serves in that capacity.

History of the Seat

Doughty has been nominated to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.

The vacancy Doughty has been nominated to fill opened on May 31, 2016, when Judge Robert James moved to senior status.  In 2016, Doughty contacted Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-LA) to express his interest in the vacancy opened by Judge James’ retirement.  After interviewing with Sen. Bill Cassidy and then-Sen. David Vitter, Doughty’s nomination was not taken up by the Obama Administration.

After the election of President Trump, Doughty interviewed again with Cassidy and Sen. John Kennedy.  Upon Cassidy and Abraham’s recommendation, Doughty was interviewed by the White House in April 2017, and officially nominated on August 3, 2017.

Legal Experience

From the time he graduated law school to his election to the bench, Doughty served at the same firm: Cotton, Bolton, Hoychick & Doughty.  At the firm, Doughty practiced civil litigation, focusing primarily on the representation of insurance companies.  For example, Doughty represented an insurance company in proceedings involving an injury caused by a cow to a resident of the insured household.[2]  Doughty also represented a defendant and his insurer in an action over an injury caused by a falling deer stand.[3]

Alongside his work at Cotton Bolton, Doughty also worked as a part-time prosecutor working in Franklin, Richland, and West Carroll Parishes.  In this role, Doughty successfully persuaded the Fifth Circuit to reinstate a conviction thrown out by a federal district judge on appeal.[4]  Similarly, Doughty successfully persuaded the Fifth Circuit to reinstate a murder conviction overturned by Judge Robert James for violating North Carolina v. Alford.[5]  Doughty also assisted in a second degree murder trial involving a defendant who shot the victim with a .38 pistol.[6]  The verdict was overturned by the Louisiana Court of Appeal.[7]

Jurisprudence and Reversals

Doughty serves as a district judge in the Fifth Judicial District of Louisiana.  In that capacity, Doughty presides over criminal, civil, and juvenile cases.  In his nine years on the state bench, Doughty has presided over almost 300 cases.  Of those cases, 33 have been appealed to higher courts, and two have been partially reversed:

Credit et al. v. Richland Parish Sch. Bd. et al. – This case involved a child who had been pushed under a school bus by another student.  Doughty ruled that, under Louisiana law, school employees were protected from suit by the decedent’s mother based on qualified immunity.[8]  The Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Louisiana statutes only protected school employees from suits based on acts of commission, not omission.[9]  The Louisiana Supreme Court reversed again, upholding Doughty’s ruling as to most of the defendants, but holding that Doughty erred in blocking suit against the bus driver.[10]

Aymond et al. v. Citizens Progressive Bank – This case involved a suit for damages by farm entities against a bank based on a farm loan.  In his ruling, Doughty found that the plaintiffs could not maintain an action against the bank.  The Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeals partially reversed.[11]

Additionally, Doughty has attracted some criticism for his conduct on the breach of contract lawsuit, KT Farms et al. v. Citizens Progressive Bank et al.  Specifically, Doughty had been accused of a bias against plaintiff’s attorney Sedric Banks and of a conflict of interest involving his own aspirations to a federal judgeship.[12]  Based on an allegedly hostile comment made by Doughty from the bench, Banks filed a motion to recuse.[13]  During the motion hearing, Doughty testified that he had questioned Luke Letlow, the chief of staff of Congressman Abraham, as to negative press articles about his conduct relating to Banks.[14]  Furthermore, Doughty denied that he believed that Banks was “messing up” his chances at a federal judgeship.[15]  Judge James “Jimbo” Stephens ultimately ruled that Doughty was not required to recuse himself from the case.[16]

Additional questions have been raised based on Doughty’s close connection with Abraham, who is a stockholder of one of the defendant bank’s parent company.[17]  Further, Abraham’s son-in-law is a member of the bank’s board of directors.[18]

Overall Assessment

While there is little doubt that the Western District desperately needs judges, Doughty’s path to the bench, like that of his co-nominee Michael Juneau, has the potential to get rocky.  In Doughty’s case, this is primarily due to the allegations raised by Sedrick Banks in the Citizens Progressive Bank case.  Senators may question Doughty as to the propriety of his remaining of the case, given the close links between the defendants and his congressional sponsor for a federal judgeship.  In defense, Doughty can note that another judge (Stephens) has ratified his conduct and has confirmed that no ethical violations are raised by his presence on the case.

Given Doughty’s conservative record on the bench, it is unlikely that Senate Democrats will want to give him the benefit of the doubt on a close case.  However, Doughty’s chances of confirmation will largely depend of whether any of the Committee’s Republicans find his conduct ethically problematic.  If not, Doughty can expect a swift, if not smooth, confirmation.


[1] Tyler Bridges, 42 Parish Area of Western Louisiana Suffers From Vacant Federal Judgeships, The Acadiana Advocate, Aug. 22, 2017, http://www.theadvocate.com/acadiana/news/article_dad54e68-8791-11e7-9cfc-678529cbf1c6.html.

[2] Andrade v. Shiers, 564 So.2d 787 (La. 2d Cir. 1990).

[3] J. Cooper, et ux v. D. Cooper, III et al., 786 So.2d 240 (La. 2d Cir. 2001).

[4] Cupit v. Whitley, 28 F.3d 532 (5th Cir. 1994).

[5] Orman v. Cain, 228 F.3d 616 (5th Cir. 2000).

[6] State v. Ruff, 504 So.2d 72 (La. 2d Cir. 1987).

[7] See id.

[8] See Credit et al. v. Richland Parish Sch. Bd. et al., 2010 WL 8759525.

[9] See Credit et al. v. Richland Parish Sch. Bd. et al., 61 So.3d 861 (La. 2d Cir. 2011).

[10] See Richland Parish Sch. Bd. et al. v. Credit et al., 85 So.3d 669 (La. 2012).

[11] See 206 So.3d 330 (La. 2d Cir. 2016).

[13] See Parker, Judge, supra n. 12.

[14] See id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] See Parker, Family, supra n. 12.

[18] See id.

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