- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 9, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A state district judge has been suspended without pay for 30 days for accepting an all-expense-paid trip from a Texas attorney whose client was awarded a $1.2 million settlement in a personal injury lawsuit tried in the judge’s court.

The Advocate reports (https://bit.ly/1wYENt3 ) that the suspension of District Judge J. Robin Free was approved in a decree handed down on Tuesday by the Louisiana Supreme Court. Free is a judge in the judicial district that covers the parishes of West Baton Rouge, Iberville and Pointe Coupee.

The court, on the recommendation of the state’s Judiciary Commission, also directed Free to reimburse the commission for $6,724 for costs in the investigation against him.

The Judiciary Commission found Free created an appearance of impropriety and placed the court’s integrity and impartiality in question when he traveled to Texas on the dime of lawyer whose personal injury case was settled in Free’s court.

The court records reveal Free took the all-expense-paid three-day trip in April 2010 to a hunting ranch south of Corpus Christi, Texas, at the request of Assistant District Attorney Tony Clayton, who had expressed interest at the time in buying the property.

Clayton asked the judge to accompany him so Free could view the property, as well, the records say. The ranch was owned by a Texas attorney who was working with Clayton on the personal injury case.

The trip occurred shortly after the $1.2 million settlement in the case was delivered in Free’s court on March 24, 2010.

The judge’s actions were called into question by the commission because investigators believed Clayton extended the invitation during the trial’s settlement negotiations.

Court records say Free was flown to Texas on the private jet owned by the law firm that the property’s owner worked for and was provided other benefits such as ground transportation, food and recreational activities during his visit.

Speaking on his behalf Tuesday, Free’s attorney, Steve Scheckman, said the judge felt the court’s decision was “appropriate.”

“From the beginning Free has been apologetic and he accepts the Supreme Court’s opinion,” Scheckman said.

Free has served as a state district court judge since he was elected in 1996. He has been cautioned by the commission several times in the past for misconduct which has included engaging in improper conversations designed to influence his actions in cases he presided over and creating the appearance of impropriety through his conduct and words while in court.

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Information from: The Advocate, https://theadvocate.com


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