Judge Roger Benitez ordered a marshal to handcuff a crying 13-year-old girl who had silently attended her father’s hearing. Afterward, he called her “awfully cute.” I don’t know where the line is where saying that to a young woman transforms from avuncular to serial killer but I’m pretty sure 13 is past it and I’m positive “while they’re sobbing after you handcuffed them against their will” is beyond it.
Of all the messages we’ve received since reporting that story, the saddest have been folks asking whether Judge Benitez will face any consequences for his actions. The federal judiciary sneers at the idea of complying with discrimination laws, the Supreme Court pointedly refuses to be constrained by any ethical rules, and they won’t even give a new trial to people railroaded by judges with undisputed and incurable ethical barriers to even hearing the case. I told some of these people that the judge would probably avoid any repercussions.
But maybe not!
Meghann Cuniff, the go-to legal affairs reporter for southern California (and, more importantly, a Duck) got a rare message from the Ninth Circuit comms team last night, with an order signed by Chief Judge Mary Murguia announcing that a formal complaint has been filed against Judge Benitez. (Zoe Tillman of Bloomberg also noted the memo, but she was a tad later and went to Penn… which is a lot less fun for football.)
On February 17, 2023, pursuant to the Rules for Judicial-Conduct and Judicial-Disability Proceedings (“JC&D Rules”), Chief District Judge Dana M. Sabraw of the Southern District of California contacted me regarding allegations of judicial misconduct by District Judge Roger T. Benitez. These allegations were related to court proceedings that took place on February 13, 2023, including a revocation of supervised release proceeding during which Judge Benitez ordered the handcuffing of the thirteen-year-old daughter of a defendant.
This prompted Chief Judge Murguia to identify “a misconduct complaint against Judge Benitez pursuant to the Judicial Disability Act, 28 U.S.C. § 351(b) and JC&D Rule 5.”
Since that time, information related to these allegations has been published in the media.
Hey, Above the Law readers… that’s us! And this is a serious aside, we wouldn’t have been able to report this without tipsters. We rely on you all to keep us in the loop because we don’t have the resources to sit outside every law firm, law school, and courthouse in the country. Your tips are anonymous and even if we don’t end up writing about it, it’s still appreciated and may just be going in our background knowledge bank about the subject. Even if you think someone may have already informed us, it never ever hurts to drop a line to email@example.com.
Because your help in bringing this story to us made a real difference:
Pursuant to JC&D Rule 23(b)(1), this order and the fact that I identified a complaint against Judge Benitez are publicly disclosed in order to “maintain public confidence in the Judiciary’s ability to redress misconduct or disability.” All subsequent proceedings will be handled in accord with the Judicial Conduct and Disability Procedures.
This means that we wouldn’t even know about the complaint against Judge Benitez — at least for the time being — but for publishing this story. Perhaps the Ninth Circuit would have handled this appropriately and publicized the results after the fact. The Ninth Circuit doesn’t have a great track record for swiftly acting upon allegations of misconduct, but it’s a different court than it was back then. The point is, we no longer have to trust that the court would take this seriously behind closed doors because we’ve triggered the requirement that the court be transparent about this to “maintain public confidence in the Judiciary’s ability to redress misconduct or disability.”
Now we’ll have to see what comes of it.
Order on the next page…
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.