Saturday, February 13, 2010

Judge surrenders her law license

Louisiana

She awaits discipline from Supreme Court
Saturday, February 13, 2010
By Paul Purpura
West Bank bureau


Former state Judge Joan Benge, who was removed from office last year because of a ruling she made nine years ago in a personal injury lawsuit, has agreed to surrender her law license until the state Supreme Court decides on a disciplinary review.

The state Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to an interim suspension request filed jointly by Benge and the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which investigates lawyer misconduct, according to the court's order released Friday.

Benge's lawyers and the Office of Disciplinary Counsel are in discussions about discipline she could receive, said Charles Plattsmier, the office's chief lawyer.

He said he could not reveal whether his office is recommending a specific disciplinary action, but Benge's suspension will remain in effect until the Supreme Court makes a final decision. It is unclear when that will be.

Benge, 53, of Kenner, a former Jefferson Parish prosecutor who was elected to the 24th Judicial District Court in May 2001, could lose her law license.

Her attorneys could not be reached for comment Friday.

Justices removed Benge from office Nov. 23, after finding she based a November 2001 ruling on reasons other than the evidence. The court found she awarded Philip Demma $4,275, despite telling her colleague, then-Judge Ronald Bodenheimer, that Demma hadn't proved his case. In addition, justices found that Benge also decided the case based on political support from Demma's attorney.

Benge inherited a lawsuit Demma had filed against State Farm insurance, in which he claimed he cracked a tooth in a 1998 automobile accident in Metairie in which the other motorist was at fault. Demma wanted a $20,000 award.

The FBI, which was in the early stages of its investigation of the Jefferson Parish Courthouse, known as Wrinkled Robe, intercepted the Nov. 29, 2001, conversation about the case between Benge and Bodenheimer while tapping Bodenheimer's home phones.

The FBI also recorded several phone conversations between Bodenheimer and Demma, in which Bodenheimer agreed to influence Benge on Demma's behalf.

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