Monday, March 26, 2012
The Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board has recommended the disbarment of a former disrtict court judge caught on tape in the course of an FBI investigation into the activities of a fellow judge.
The judge was assigned a rear end collision case where the plaintiff had claimed dental injuries. The claim was, to put it charitably, quite weak. The other judge corruptly persuaded her to enter a plaintiff's verdict as a favor to the plaintiff's attorney, who was a political supporter.
NOLA.com had this story on a hearing panel recommendation for an 18 month suspension:
Supreme Court justices removed Benge from the bench in November 2009 in finding she ruled favorably for plaintiff Philip Demma after a 2001 trial because of her personal relationships instead of the evidence. Demma alleged he cracked a tooth in a car wreck in Metairie in 1998, and Benge inherited the case when elected judge in May 2001.
Following the November 2001 trial, Benge confided in a fellow judge, Ronald Bodenheimer, her view that Demma's case was bogus and that she was leaning toward awarding him nothing. However, she expressed an affinity for Demma's attorney, who was a political supporter, and Bodenheimer urged her to award Demma something, saying he'd "be there" for her. Despite saying she would "zero" the case, Benge later awarded Demma $4,275.
The FBI, which was eavesdropping on Bodenheimer's phone calls as part of the "Wrinkled Robe" investigation of the Jefferson Parish Courthouse, recorded Benge's discussion. She was never charged with a crime, but federal authorities alerted the state's Judiciary Commission, leading to her being kicked off the bench. Bodenheimer later admitted to conspiring with Demma to influence Benge, but he was sent to prison for unrelated corrupt actions.
The hearing committee, whose members includes lawyers and a member of the public, found Benge ruled inappropriately in the Demma case but characterized her ruling as a compromise: She found that Demma cracked his tooth during the wreck, but she awarded him little money. The committee called it a "compromise," and in a split decision voted for the 18-month suspension.
Benge "has lost her position as a judge and her good name; she voluntarily surrendered her law license," public committee member John Uhl wrote in a concurring opinion. "How much more pain and suffering must (Benge) endure? What she has suffered is enough; it is time for mercy."
This post on Tulanelink.com attacks the case against the former judge. (Mike Frisch)