The Investigators: 2 judges face La. Supreme Court for allegations of misconduct

The Investigators: Two judges face La. Supreme Court for allegations of misconduct
Published: May. 3, 2016 at 1:01 PM CDT|Updated: May. 3, 2016 at 10:42 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Two judges in the 18th Judicial District faced the Louisiana Supreme Court for allegations of misconduct, but it will be several weeks before a final ruling is made.

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.

During Tuesday's proceedings, Judge Best offered an emotional apology.

"I have regretted how I handled this case," he said. "I stand here humiliated, yet sorry for the poor decision I made some four years ago."

Garcia was placed on five years active probation for his indecent behavior in 2009 with a young cheerleader at Livonia High, the same school where he was a cheerleading coach. Garcia joined the church choir at the same church where Judge James Best was the director of the choir. The two became friendly. Just two and a half years into his five-year probation, Judge Best terminated Garcia's probation. The victim's family, nor the investigating agency were a part of that hearing when the probation was terminated, but Judge Best continued with the ruling.

"I agree I gave appearances of impropriety," Judge Best said. "In the four and a half years, I have regretted how I handled this case. While history can't be changed, I have done everything I can."

Judge Best noted that he sent a letter to the commission after the WAFB Investigator's report aired. The letter was dated two days after the story aired.

"30 years ago as an attorney, I dreamed of arguing before this court. This is not what I had in mind," Judge Best said. "We all need closure, so I offer my deepest apologies for the 18th JDC, OSC, Mary, I'm sorry, the Judicial Commission was so kind to me and to Tony for the emotional damage I have caused to my family. I don't want to be here. I regret it. I'm sorry, but I now have closure. Whatever this honorable court determined, I will take it. You will not hear your decision was not the right decision.

The Commission recommended Judge Best be suspended for 30  days. His attorney says they agree with the proposed discipline, asking the Supreme Court to take into consideration that the judge self-reported his actions and has cooperated with investigators and most importantly acknowledges his wrongdoings.

In the case against Judge Robin Free, who has served since 1997, the allegations are far more extensive.

The recommendation from the Judiciary Commission regarding Judge Free is suspension without pay for one year and payment of $11,098.68 to the Judiciary Commission.

In Tuesday's hearing, one Supreme Court Justice said Judge Free has lost control of his courtroom.

"You expect them to be in control," he said. "This is a theatre. This is supposed to be a judicial process. Maybe this judge could not control the process. It comes down to reputation. Let's go in there and it's going to be all theatre today. It's going to be all theatre until someone is held in contempt, a lot of applause and theatre. Apparently this is what it has become."

For more on the investigations by the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana, click the links to read the full reports on Judge James Best and Judge Robin Free.

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