The Investigators: La. Supreme Court suspends two 18th JDC judges for misconduct
NEW ORLEANS, LA (WAFB) - The Louisiana Supreme Court issued suspensions Wednesday for two 18th Judicial District Court judges due to misconduct.
In each of the independent cases, the judge was suspended and ordered to reimburse the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana.
Court documents show Judge James Best was suspended for 15 days without pay and ordered to reimburse the commission $1,610.71 in costs.
In the case of Judge Robin Free, the court issued a suspension for 1 year without pay and he must reimburse the commission.
The cases, 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.
Judge Alvin Batiste, who also handles cases in the 18th Judicial District said anytime a judge is punished, it is serious.
"Anytime that you have to report to the Judicial Commission and it reaches the point where the Supreme Court metes out any type of punishment as a result of their finding," Batiste said.
Investigations into Judge Best began after WAFB's Kiran Chawla unearthed suspicious connections between Best and convicted sex offender Antonio Garcia.
Garcia had been the cheerleading coach at Livonia High, before being placed on five years of active probation for indecent behavior with one of the cheerleaders.
While on probation, Garcia developed a relationship with Judge Best who was the choir director at the church where Garcia sang. Half way through Garcia's sentence, Judge Best terminated the probation.
Two days after the 9News Investigator's report aired, Judge Best sent a letter to the Judicial Commission self-reporting his actions.
On May 3, Judge Best appeared before the commission to offer testimony: "I have regretted how I handled this case. I stand here humiliated, yet sorry for the poor decision I made some four years ago," said Judge Best.
The Commission initially recommended Judge Best be suspended for 30 days. Judge Best's attorney said they agreed with the proposed discipline, but asked the Supreme Court to take into consideration the self-reported wrong doing and cooperation with the investigators.
"I am pleased that after 4.5 years that this matter is finally over! I am very pleased with the Supreme Court's ruling," Best said after being suspended. "I never intended to disregard nor violate any rule of law. However, I recognized after the fact that I made some pretty poor decisions for which I have regretted everyday for 4.5 years. I fully respect and accept the Supreme Court's ruling. Finally, and again I apologize to the Supreme Court and to the citizens of the 18 JDC and thanks the many people who have expressed their faith and support of me through this time of difficulty."
Investigations into Judge Free were far more severe.
The investigation stemmed from several allegations against Judge Free. These allegations include: interrupting private meetings between family members of a victim of a vehicular homicide case without the defendant, or his lawyer present; abusing his authority, holding defendants in contempt and sentencing them to a term of imprisonment without following proper contempt procedures; and conducting himself in an inappropriate manor by exhibiting a lack of decorum in several separate criminal cases.
Judge Free also attended a hearing before the commission on May 3. During the proceedings one Supreme Court Justice said Judge Free had lost control let his court devolve into theater:
"You expect [judges] 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…It's going to be all theatre until someone is held in contempt."
Free and Best of one of four district judges who handle cases in Iberville, Pointe Coupee and West Baton Rouge Parishes. The suspension temporarily wipes away two member of the team but Batiste is confident ongoing cases will not be interrupted.
"For us in the 18th Judicial District, it won't have any impact on pending cases. Everything will function as it has in the past," he said.
Batiste said the Supreme Court normally appoints temporary judges to fill any vacancies and he expects that decision will be made within the coming days.
"Ad hoc judges are normally retired judges that the Supreme Court will ask them whether or not they want to serve in the capacity of the judge in the other divisions," Batiste added.
He said the temporary replacements could be local but said he will know for sure soon.
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