THE INVESTIGATORS: Investigation into judge uncertain after retirement announcement

WEST BATON ROUGE PARISH, LA (WAFB) - A 9News investigation into a judge's alleged misconduct prompted an investigation by the Judicial Commission of Louisiana, but then, Judge Robin Free announced his retirement and now it's unclear what will happen to the investigation.

"My hope would be that someone looks into the allegations that the officers made against him," said West Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office Deputy Col. Richie Johnson.

The allegations Col. Johnson is referring to were the subject of a 9News investigation on May 17.

RELATED: The Investigators: Misuse of Position?

"He starts screaming and cussing that I don't need any help and uh, holding the phone up in front of his face. I mean he's constantly screaming and cussing us out," said an unnamed WBRSO deputy.

Back in May, Judge Free was accused of parking along Hwy. 190 and flashing the lights on his pick-up truck to warn drivers that deputies were up ahead ticketing people for speeding. We learned Judge Free's daughter had been ticketed earlier by those deputies.

The 9News Investigators spoke to Judge Free by phone, who agreed to an interview.

WAFB's Kiran Chawla: Did you go on 190 and flash your lights trying to tell people they were up ahead?

Judge Free: No.

Kiran: When they're saying that they [deputies] saw you doing that, are they lying?

Judge Free: I disagree with them.

"I don't understand why we would just want to make something up like this," said a WBRSO deputy.

Numerous deputies told the 9News Investigators Judge Free showed up more than once and told them what they were doing was illegal, that they were operating on a ticket quota system, and he would shut down the program once he returned to the bench. At the time, Judge Free was serving a one-year suspension for an unrelated issue and was slated to return to the bench in mid-July.

Kiran: Did you use your position as the judge to drive to intimidate West Baton Rouge Parish deputies?

Judge Free: No, in no way, shape, or form. I did not intimidate anyone. I had no intentions of intimidating anyone, never tried to intimidate anyone.

Several sources told us the Judicial Commission of Louisiana launched an investigation into the judge's alleged misconduct after our report. The Judicial Commission looks into complaints against any judges in Louisiana and then hands off their findings to the Louisiana Supreme Court. But amid that investigation, Judge Free announced his retirement.

"Well, it's all certainly useless for purposes of imposing judicial discipline. It's moot. He's off the bench and the worst thing the supreme court could ever do to a judge is to remove the judge from the bench," said law professor at Loyola University, Dane Ciolino, when asked if the investigation into Judge Free is now null and void. "I've seen all sorts of instances of lawyer and judicial misconduct. That's what I teach and it's what I do. Where this is in the range of judicial misconduct? It's certainly not acceptable conduct for a judge."

When a judge retires, they still have a valid law license and can be a lawyer.

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel, a separate entity, investigates lawyers, including any violations of the law while that lawyer was a judge, such as Free. But the Judicial Commission has to ask the Louisiana Supreme Court to forward their findings to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

"It's certainly something the supreme court has done in the past and could consider doing if it believes that the misconduct is egregious enough to warrant further sanctions," said Ciolino.

All of that is done confidentially, though. If the Disciplinary Counsel does investigate and finds wrongdoing, they file formal misconduct charges against the lawyer. A hearing is held and from that, the committee recommends disciplinary actions ranging from public reprimand to permanently disbarring the lawyer from ever practicing again.

We're told Free may consider re-running for judge in a few years.

"This is an unusual case obviously and it raises these unusual questions," said Ciolino. When asked if Judge Free could rerun as a judge in a few years, Ciolino responded, "As a technical matter, he probably could."

"There will certainly be no official disposition of any of these allegations of judicial misconduct," said Ciolino, in reference to whether or not there will be any record of the investigation if Judge Free goes back to being a lawyer, meaning all the allegations against Judge Free could disappear.

"Our internal investigation absolutely showed unequivocally that the officers were telling the truth and the judge did every single thing that they accused him of," said Col. Johnson.

Col. Johnson says they got additional confirmation after interviewing witnesses as part of their internal investigation, but all those findings could now fall between the cracks because Judge Free retired.

"They usually say it's not the crime that gets you, it's the cover up, so that was interesting in this case because we were able to interview some people who came forward and showed that the judge was trying to participate in a cover up of what he had done," said Col. Johnson.

We reached out to Judge Free for comment. Our calls have not been returned.

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