On Thursday, March 2, 2023, CNN reported that an investigation is being conducted by the ninth U.S, Circuit Court of Appeal alleging misconduct against a federal judge who instructed a 13-year-old girl out of the spectator’s gallery during her father’s supervised release revocation hearing and had her handcuffed and placed in the jury box.

According to the transcript of the proceedings, Judge Roger Benitez, a U.S. District Court Judge of the Southern District of California, paused the San Diego hearing that happened on February 13, to call up the defendant’s daughter, who was attending her father’s hearings for the first time. Prior to the said incident, it was stated by the defendant to the judge, that his plan was to leave the area once released as he is concerned with his daughter hanging out with the wrong people. Minutes later after the statement of the defendant, Judge Benitez ordered a marshal to handcuff the girl, who has been crying during the incident.

According to the document, before the Judge let the girl’s handcuffs be taken off and let her return to her seat, he scolded the girl, calling her “an awfully cute young lady” and warned that if she didn’t stay away from drugs she would wind back up in handcuffs.

Michele McKenzie, an attorney representing the girl and her mother stated. “I think the intent was to embarrass or humiliate her, I think that was the very clear message sent to her by someone with a tremendous amount of power.”

The attorney added, “She feels bad and was made to feel bad though she has done nothing wrong. “It shows a complete lack of understanding of what families – particularly the children of those in the criminal justice system – are going through,” referring to Judge Benitez’s actions and calling it “really out of touch with the reality.”

Following the incident, Chief Judge Dana Sabraw of the Southern District of California informed the higher court of the alleged misconduct. In response, the chief judge of the ninth circuit stated that she already reviewed the court transcripts and identified a complaint. McKenzie stated that her client’s humiliation is public and added that the judge should be sanctioned,  “At a minimum, the 9th Circuit should censure him publicly, the judge’s actions send a message that by even attending a hearing, the public could be a target.”

Scott Cummings, a legal ethics professor at UCLA, stated that any punishment could include censure or even suspension. He is surprised by the incident and called it “unprecedented” in his 20 years of career. “I have never heard of anything like this – targeting a young child who is there to support the defendant,” Cummings added.

According to federal court data, there were 1,520 complaints against federal judges from October 2021 through September 2022. Most of these complaints were filed by prison inmates and other litigants.


Source: CNN


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