The 24th Judicial District jurist is accused of deciding for a plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit in her court eight years ago based on reasons other than the evidence.
It has been our experience with the Louisiana Court System that decisions ARE made “BASED ON REASONS OTHER THAN THE EVIDENCE” so why is this case different? Especially helpful was our unethical attorney J Arthur Smith III blatantly not correcting subpoenas after the wrong information is sent and not bothering to subpoena evidence that could have been useful. This was also helpful for the Judge in granting the defendant’s motion for summary judgement because even with the evidence that was presented (which was clearly enough to show this is a valid case), the decision was “BASED ON REASONS OTHER THAN EVIDENCE”! katy
Embattled Judge Joan Benge appears before state Supreme Court in discipline case
by Paul Purpura, The Times-Picayune
Friday September 11, 2009
Surrounded by supporters and walking arm-in-arm with one of her attorneys, Judge Joan Benge left the state Supreme Court seemingly emotionally drained Thursday, after her lawyers presented the seven justices with arguments they hope will save her judicial career.
The 24th Judicial District jurist is accused of deciding for a plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit in her court eight years ago based on reasons other than the evidence. The state Judiciary Commission, a panel that oversees judicial misconduct and investigated Benge, wants her removed from the bench.
A former prosecutor elected to the bench in 2001, Benge, 53, who lives in Kenner, denies wrongdoing. If the high court finds she did anything wrong, her behavior at most rates censure, her attorneys said.
The high court, which heard about an hour of argument and makes the final decision, is not expected to issue a ruling for eight to 12 weeks.
David Grunfeld/The Times-PicayuneJudge Joan Benge said she was grateful for her supporters, who packed the Supreme Court, and for her legal team.
Benge declined to comment as she emerged from court. But she expressed gratitude to her supporters who packed the Supreme Court, and to her legal team. Outside the court, she was backed by family, friends and attorneys Pauline Hardin and Franz Zibilich.
“We feel like we did our best,” Zibilich said.
At issue is Benge’s Dec. 7, 2001 decision in a personal injury lawsuit filed by Phil Demma, then a reserve Jefferson Parish deputy. He sued a motorist and an insurance company claiming he cracked a tooth in a 1998 wreck in Metairie. Benge had to decide whether the wreck caused the injury and, if so, the award amount. Demma wanted $20,000.
The FBI, in the early stages of its investigation of corruption at the Jefferson Parish Courthouse, secretly recorded the Nov. 29, 2001, conversation, in which Benge told then-Judge Ronald Bodenheimer — a Demma ally — three times that were it not for Demma’s attorney John Venezia, she would have “zeroed” the case, or awarded Demma nothing.
The FBI also recorded several conversations between Demma and Bodenheimer, in which Demma urges Bodenheimer to speak to Benge on his behalf. Bodenheimer agrees to in some conversations, and in others, he tells Demma he spoke with Benge.
The Judiciary Commission opened a file on the Demma ruling in April 2003, after reading two newspaper stories about Demma pleading guilty to federal charges, including conspiracy to fix his case in Benge’s court. The commission charged her earlier this year.
Asked by Associate Justice John Weimer about the delay, Interim Special Council Michael Bewers, who is prosecuting Benge, said the FBI and U.S. Attorneys did not provide the recording of Benge’s phone conversation until after their investigation was complete.
“Without a taped conversation, we didn’t have a case,” Bewers said. “We couldn’t base an investigation on a newspaper report.”
In the conversation, Bewers said Benge gave Bodenheimer 17 reasons “why the case was worthless,” but out of apparent want of Venezia’s political support, she awarded Demma $4,275.
But Benge’s attorneys argue that she ruled based on the evidence and facts of the case. They said Thursday that a hearing officer who heard testimony in December as part of the Judiciary Commission’s investigation apparently disregarded the Demma trial transcripts and speculated that Benge threw the case. They urged justices to review the transcripts.
“The case was properly decided,” Hardin argued.
Bewers said Benge’s attorneys are using the trial transcript as “a smoke screen.”
“It’s a story, and it’s a pretty good story,” Bewers said. “But it’s not true. The reason we know it’s not true is, we have the tape” of the conversation with Bodenheimer.
Zibilich attacked the recording, saying the Judiciary Commission speculated as to what Benge meant when she told Bodenheimer that she would have “zeroed” the case.
The commission alleges Benge was driven to retain Venezia’s political support. Benge’s attorneys said she meant that Venezia effectively handled the Demma case.
Benge did not know that Demma and Bodenheimer conspired to fix the case, her attorneys said. She realized something was amiss during the Nov. 29, 2001, telephone conversation, when Bodenheimer urged Benge to rule in favor of Demma because he “will be there for you.”
Benge’s reaction to Bodenheimer’s comment was “Huh?”
“For a first time, there’s a realization he has crossed the line,” Zibilich argued.
“Bingo, it registers,” Zibilich said. “End of conversation. There’s no more conversations with him.”
He added, “You know what she’s guilty of? She should have reported him to the Judiciary Commission.”
Bodenheimer pleaded guilty to federal charges unrelated to Benge and served 46 months in federal prison as a result of the Wrinkled Robe investigation. In May, he admitted in an affidavit that he tried to sway Benge’s ruling in Demma’s case, and that he lied to Demma about his attempts to do so.
Bodenheimer, who owned a marina in Venetian Isles at the time, wanted Demma’s help in landing a lucrative seafood vendor contract from restaurateur Al Copeland. Bodenheimer, who at the time presided over Copeland’s custody dispute, said his attempts to sway Benge were unsuccessful.
Bodenheimer did not testify in the Judiciary Commission proceedings, and it’s unclear whether the Supreme Court will consider his affidavit in reaching its decision.