Posted on November 6, 2009 at 3:07 PM
Friday, Nov 6 at 7:20 PM
NEW ORLEANS – A Jefferson Parish judge is “devastated” by a Louisiana Supreme Court ruling that removed her from the bench, according to her attorney.
Judge Joan Benge was ordered out of her post in a ruling over whether she had allowed a relationship with another judge to influence her decision in a case.
The court's ruling cited evidence that Benge awarded money to a man who had sued over a traffic accident even though she privately said the suit had no merit.
“She is devastated,” said her attorney Franz Ziblich. “She felt the same way we all felt coming out of oral arguments. We all felt really good, and she is devastated.”
FBI agents investigating broader allegations of judicial misconduct taped a 2001 conversation between Benge and former state Judge Robert Bodenheimer in which he lobbied her to rule in favor of the plaintiff, whose lawyer was one of Benge's campaign donors.
Bodenheimer was one of more than a dozen defendants convicted in the FBI's "Operation Wrinkled Robe" investigation.
Benge was scrutinized for her ruling in a lawsuit brought by Phillip Demma, a screening officer for the Jefferson Parish Juvenile Court and a reserve deputy sheriff. Demma sued the other driver in a collision that he blamed for a cracked tooth.
Demma's lawyer, John Venezia, had asked for $23,323 in damages, but Benge only awarded $4,275 to his client.
During her taped conversation with Bodenheimer before she ruled, Benge said she would "zero" the case "if it wasn't for
In the court's 42-page ruling, Chief Justice Catherine "Kitty" Kimball said Benge's conduct shouldn't be excused because she imposed a less generous damage award than Bodenheimer had lobbied for.
"She was an experienced litigator when she took the bench, and she undoubtedly knew how wrong it was to be pressured by anyone, much less another judge, to award undeserved damages and 'throw a case,"' the ruling said.
"We don't understand why a $2,000 judgment was considered to be out of line,” said Ziblich. “I can assure you if I was going to fix a case or judge whether a case was fixed, I wouldn't believe $2,000 would cross the line relative to that aspect."
Ziblich said Benge's only option is to request a re-hearing before the Louisiana State Supreme Court but that they wanted to analyze the ruling before making a decision.