- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 29, 2016

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The Louisiana Supreme Court has suspended two 18th District judges without pay - Judge Robin Free for a year and Judge James Best for 15 days.

The 18th District handles cases in Iberville, Pointe Coupee and West Baton Rouge parishes.

The high court suspended Free for four violations, including interrupting a meeting between prosecutors and a victim’s family, and making inappropriate comments. Two other violations involved contempt of court findings against misdemeanor defendants.

The fourth violation involved inappropriate comments in seven cases. In three of those, the complaints said he appeared to be joking about domestic violence.

It was the second disciplinary action in two years against Free, who was suspended for 30 days in 2014 for accepting a free trip from a lawyer whose client had won a $1.2 million settlement in a personal injury case tried before Free.

Two judges agreed that Free violated judicial rules and the Constitution, but said the penalty is too harsh.

Best was suspended for 15 days for ending probation early for a sex offender who was in a church choir directed by Best.

The Louisiana Supreme Court cut in half the suspension recommended by the state Judiciary Commission for Best, who held a probation hearing for Antonio Garcia without notifying the state prosecutors who handled the case.

Two justices dissented, saying the penalty was too lenient.

Garcia had pleaded guilty to indecent behavior with a juvenile, for emails and texts exchanged with a 16-year-old cheerleader at the school where he was assistant cheerleading coach, WAFB-TV reported in 2012.

The ruling said Best reinstated Garcia’s probation at the request of the state attorney general’s office - a request filed the day of a news report about the termination.

Best reported his decisions three days later, on Jan. 26, 2012, according to the decision written by Justice John Weimer.

He wrote that Garcia and Best became acquainted sometime after Garcia was sentenced, through their church and the choir.

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