Judge Roger Benitez investigated after a girl was handcuffed
After widespread outrage over a seasoned lawyer’s decision to handcuff a 13-year-old girl in his courtroom, an inquest was launched in the Ninth Circuit.
Senior US District Judge Roger Benitez, a George W. Bush-appointed judge, who previously caused a stir when he compared an AR-15 to a Swiss Army knife when tipping over California’s assault weapons ban on February 13 ordered defendant Mario Puente’s daughter handcuffed. said Puente’s sentencing memorandum. The father, who admitted at the revocation hearing to violating his supervised release, has a history of drug problems and has completed treatment programs twice, the documents added.
Puente made an emotional speech at a hearing before Judge Benitez, according to the defendant’s attorney, Mayra Lopez, a federal public defender. But after the father expressed fears that his daughter might one day go astray, Benitez apparently tried to scare the 13-year-old by ordering her to be handcuffed. Court documents described the scene as follows:
During that hearing, Mr Puente’s 13-year-old daughter sat in the gallery. As part of Mr. Puente’s address, he expressed a desire to leave San Diego because “I know someone everywhere and everywhere.” He pointed out that “[t]The only way I can — I feel like I can do anything is go, leave what I know…” He also expressed concern that his daughter was hanging out with the wrong people who “have her could lead down the same path that I walked. ” He expressed his belief that “the only thing [he] could do for her is try to get her out, try to get her out.”
A few minutes later, Judge Benitez asked a US Marshal, “You’re in handcuffs?” The Marshal confirmed this. Judge Benitez then ordered the 13-year-old girl to leave the viewing area, approach the front of the courtroom, and stand next to her father’s attorney. He said to the Marshal: “[p]Handcuff her.” The Marshal did so and tied the girl’s hands behind her back. At the same time she cried. Judge Benitez then ordered the marshal to “sit[ ] her over there in the jury box for me, just for a minute.” The marshal complied and handcuffed the girl to the jury box. She kept crying.
After a long pause, Judge Benitez released the girl. But he did not allow her to return to her seat immediately. Instead, he told her, “Don’t go away. Look at me.” He asked her how she liked “sitting up there” and “how those cuffs felt on you.” Still in tears, she replied that she “didn’t like it.” He told her she was “an awfully sweet young lady” but if she didn’t stay off drugs, she would “land up in handcuffs” and be “right where I put you a minute ago.”
Puente’s attorney said the judge humiliated and psychologically harmed the girl.
Chief Circuit Judge Mary H. Murguia, Chairperson of the Ninth Circuit Judicial Council (which investigates judges), announced a complaint of misconduct on Tuesday.
“On February 22, 2023, after conducting an investigation into the allegations, which included a review of relevant court records, I identified a misconduct complaint against Judge Benitez under the Judicial Disability Act, 28 USC § 351(b) and JC&D Rule 5,” wrote Murguia. “Since then, information about these allegations has been published in the media. Pursuant to JC&D Rule 23(b)(1), this order and the fact that I have found a grievance against Judge Benitez are publicly announced to “maintain public confidence in the ability of the judiciary to remedy wrongdoing or obstruction.” “”
In 2004 when the judge was a candidate for the US District Court for the Southern District of California, the Standing Committee of the American Bar Association examined Benitez, noting that a “substantial majority” of committee members deemed the candidate “unqualified.”
“My investigation took place in the summer of 2003,” wrote Richard M. Macias on behalf of the ABA at the time. “In addition to carefully reviewing relevant materials such as the candidate’s questionnaire responses, his legal writings, and other documents he sent me for review, my examination of Judge Benitez’s professional credentials included approximately 67 confidential interviews with members of his legal community, including 23 judges and 44 lawyers. At each interview, I asked how the person knew the candidate and what the person knew about the candidate’s professional competence, legal temperament, and integrity that would affect his competency as a U.S. District Judge.”
Macias stated that he was startled by the number of “negative” reviews, so he made an effort to speak at length with Benitez.
“Because I’ve received more negative comments about this candidate than I have ever received about any other person I’ve investigated, I met with Judge Benitez twice and spoke to him for much longer than is normally required,” he wrote. “A significant number of the judges and attorneys I interviewed raised significant concerns about Judge Benitez’s legal temper and his conduct in the courtroom.”
Macias said many of those interviewed were prosecutors and defense attorneys who appeared before Benitez when he was a state and federal judge.
“Interviewees have repeatedly told me that Judge Benitez displays an inappropriate legal temper towards attorneys, litigants and fellow judges; that all too often, while on the bench, Judge Benitez is arrogant, pompous, condescending, impatient, short-tempered, rude, abusive, bullying, needlessly mean, and an overall lack of people skills,” he added.
Benitez was born in 1950 in Havana, Cuba. Previously, Benitez was a judge of the Superior Court of California and also worked in private practice for nearly 20 years.
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