BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Two state judges in the 18th Judicial District are facing disciplinary charges for allegations of mishandling cases. The case will be heard in the Louisiana Supreme Court on May 3.
The cases, independent from one another, were brought by the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana, which is the agency responsible for investigating allegations against a judge for things such as misconduct, inability to perform duties, or criminal allegations.
In a 29-page report regarding Judge James Best, the Judiciary Commission opened with the 2012 piece by the Investigators: "Sex offender special treatment." Lead Investigative reporter Kiran Chawla found suspicious connections between Judge Best and convicted sex offender Antonio Garcia.
"The article reported that the hearing on this matter was conducted without notice to the Attorney General's office, which prosecuted the case after the District Attorney's recusal, or to the victim's family," notes the report. "Shortly after the news report was published, Judge Best, on his own volition, wrote to the Office of Special Counsel and enclosed a transcript of excerpts from the hearing, which indicated that Judge Best discussed Mr. Garcia's motion to terminate his probation privately with Mr. Garcia's probation officer and the Livonia Police Chief before the motion was heard and further indicated that Judge Best's conduct and judicial decision may have been influenced by his relationship with Mr. Garcia."
According to the document, Judge Best acknowledged wrongdoing in regards to this case during past hearings with the Judiciary Commission.
"At his appearance before the Commission, Judge Best further acknowledged his wrongdoing, apologized to the Commission, and expressed his regret for his actions, which the Commission believed to be sincere."
Judge Best, who has served since 1993, is recommended to face a penalty of a 30 day suspension and to pay a fine to the Commission.
In the case against Judge Robin Free, who has served since 1997, the allegations are far more extensive.
"Judge Free's misconduct is serious, not isolated, and evidenced a pattern of improper comments, injudicious behavior, and failure to follow the law," the Judiciary Commission notes in the 93-page document detailing its investigation. "...Judge Free either lacks a fundamental understanding regarding appropriate judicial temperament and demeanor or believes that maintaining appropriate judicial temperament and demeanor is unnecessary."
The recommendation from the Judiciary Commission regarding Judge Free is to suspension without pay for one year and payment of $11,098.68 to the Judiciary Commission.
Attorney Steve Scheckman represents both Judge Free and Best. Regarding the case he says it would be "ethically inappropriate" to comment about cases pending before the Supreme Court. He adds, "However, briefs will be filed in the next few weeks and the Supreme Court has scheduled oral argument and I will address my comments to the Supreme Court at that time."