Former 24th Judicial District Judge recommended for disbarment
GRETNA – A former judge for the 24th Judicial District in Jefferson Parish has been recommended for disbarment on charges she maintained too close of a relationship with a plaintiff's attorney.
The Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board has suggested Joan Benge be disbarred permanently for allegedly giving preferential treatment in court to political ally Metairie-based attorney John Venezia.
Benge was elected to Division A three times and served from 2001 to 2009.
The recommendation asserts that Judge Ronald Bodenheimer colluded with the plaintiff Philip Demma by persuading Benge to issue a favorable verdict in the case Benge presided over.
Bodenheimer also is a former 24th Judicial District judge who was convicted of various federal charges resulting, in part, from an FBI probe called Operation Wrinkled Robe. He spent more than three years in federal prison, additional time in a half-way house, and was released on Sept. 21, 2007, to serve the remainder of his term under probation under house confinement.
According to the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board, Benge in November 2001 was speaking on the phone with Bodenheimer, whose phone was being tapped as part of the FBI investigation, when she said she would not even consider awarding damages in the Demma case if it were not for the political support of plaintiff's attorney Venezia.
Demma received $4,275 in damages in the case from Benge.
Following the revelations in the phone call, Benge was first removed from office in November 2009 and her law license was placed on an interim suspension in June 2010.
Benge also was convicted and sentenced to two years in jail for plotting to rig the Demma trial.
A Hearing Committee made a recommendation to suspend Benge's law license for 18 months in September 2011, which would have included the time her license had already spent under interim suspension. However, the nine member Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board did not agree with the Hearing Committee and submitted the request to the Louisiana Supreme Court for full lifetime disbarment.
Benge will have the chance to object to the recommendation until sometime in early April.