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Judge had side gig officiating New Orleans weddings. Legal trouble followed, feds say

A New Orleans judge charged a fee to officiate marriage ceremonies that went up depending on the time of day, location or holiday, according to federal prosecutors.

Judges can charge officiant fees in the state of Louisiana. They can’t, however, hide that income from the federal government.

Ernestine Anderson-Trahan, a judge with the Second City Court in the Parish of Orleans, was indicted Jan. 7 on four counts of filing a false tax return after prosecutors in the Eastern District of Louisiana said she didn’t report the wedding officiant fees to the Internal Revenue Service for at least four years.

Anderson-Trahan could not be reached for comment on Monday, Jan. 10, and information regarding her defense attorney was not immediately available.

Representatives from the Second City Court also did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ request for comment.

According to the indictment, Anderson-Trahan has worked as a judge in the Second City Court since 2013 and, as such, is paid by the Supreme Court of Louisiana and the Judicial Expense Fund.

She oversees small claims disputes and evictions in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans, The Times-Picayune reported.

Anderson-Trahan also earned extra income officiating marriage ceremonies and performing legal work on the side, prosecutors said. Louisiana allows judges to accept payment for performing a wedding ceremony, according to a 2016 blog post from the Center for Judicial Ethics at the National Center for State Courts.

The same holds true for judges in neighboring Alabama, Mississippi and Texas, the center said.

Some states — such as Illinois, Pennsylvania and South Carolina — outright bar judges from accepting fees for officiant services, according to the center, while others only allow judges to accept fees for ceremonies performed outside the courthouse. They include California, Florida, Georgia and Washington.

Prosecutors said Anderson-Trahan charged between $80 and $100 to officiate weddings at the courthouse, which she took in cash. She reportedly charged extra for ceremonies outside normal business hours, not at the courthouse or on Valentine’s Day.

But according to the indictment, Anderson-Trahan failed to report that income to the IRS between 2013 and 2016. She also kept hidden the legal fees she earned from “referral fees and fee-sharing agreements from legal work that she performed unrelated to her judicial income,” the government said.

It wasn’t immediately clear how much in officiant and legal fees she is accused of pocketing without paying taxes.

Anderson-Trahan will make her first court appearance Jan. 24. If convicted, prosecutors said, she faces up to three years in prison for each count of filing a false tax return.

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Hayley Fowler is a reporter at The Charlotte Observer covering breaking and real-time news across North and South Carolina. She has a journalism degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and previously worked as a legal reporter in New York City before joining the Observer in 2019.

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