- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 5, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Two state judges in the 18th Judicial District are facing possible sanctions by the Louisiana Supreme Court on allegations they mishandled cases involving criminal defendants.

The Advocate reports (https://bit.ly/1Mbw8Mw ) the Judiciary Commission has recommended District Judge J. Robin Free be removed from the bench for a year without pay and pay the commission $11,098 in fines. It has also asked that the Louisiana Supreme Court suspend District Judge James Best for 30 days and order he pay the Judiciary Commission $1,610 in fines.

Both Free and Best preside over cases in the 18th Judicial District, which covers the parishes of West Baton Rouge, Iberville and Pointe Coupee. They’re set to appear before the Supreme Court May 3.

According to a 93-page brief outlining the allegations against Free, the judge is facing discipline for four allegations that he violated the Code of Judicial Conduct and the state’s Constitution.

Free is accused of interrupting a private meeting between a victim’s family and officials with the District Attorney’s office following a hearing in a criminal case and making inappropriate comments. The brief also said Free signed an ex parte order to stay a deposition in a civil case at the request of the DA’s office, which wasn’t the proper party to the case.

Free is also accused of abusing his contempt authority in two separate matters and making inappropriate comments and “exhibiting a lack of proper decorum, demeanor, and temperament in seven separate criminal cases,” court records show.

The latest filings mark the second time within two years that Free is facing disciplinary actions. In December 2014, the Louisiana Supreme Court suspended him 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.

Best is facing suspension stemming from his decision to terminate the supervised probation of a convicted sex offender. Best attended church and was in a choir with the man.

“Judge Best discussed (the offender’s) motion to terminate his probation privately with (the offender’s) probation officer and the Livonia Police Chief before the motion was heard,” the 23-page case briefing said.

Best also held a hearing in the defendant’s case without notifying the state Attorney General’s office, which had handled the prosecution.

Both judges are being represented by New Orleans attorney Steven Scheckman.

“These matters remain pending before the Supreme Court and it would be ethically inappropriate for me to comment at this time,” Scheckman said in a written statement. “However, briefs will be filed in the next few weeks and the Supreme Court has scheduled oral argument and I will address my comments to the Supreme Court at that time.”

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


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