NEW ORLEANS – The Louisiana Supreme Court has ruled in favor of allowing a disgraced former judge to resume practicing law after having bar license suspended for three years due to an investigation that revealed she gave a political supporter preferable treatment in civil lawsuit.
Joan Benge was granted immediate reinstatement to the Louisiana Bar by the Louisiana Supreme Court (LSC) On Feb. 14.
One of a few officials caught up in the “Operation Wrinkled Robe” sting launched by federal officials that found improper relationships between judges and attorneys in the 24th Judicial District Court, Benge was found to have given preferential treatment to an attorney whose settlement hearing she was conducting.
During a conversation in which her phone was tapped, Benge was caught on tape saying that she would not have provided a personal injury settlement to a client of political supporter and plaintiff’s attorney John Venezia if the case had been handled by another attorney.
Philip Demma, Venezia’s plaintiff, received $4,275 in the 2001 case where he allegedly fabricated a story about cracking a tooth in a car accident.
Although she was never charged with a crime, Benge was removed from office by the LSC in 2009 and received an interim suspension of her law license.
On Oct. 16, 2012 the LSC ruled that while Benge engaged in unethical conduct her actions in that case were not representative of her entire career as an attorney and judge.
Benge approached the court for reinstatement in April 2013 and during a formal hearing the Office of Disciplinary Counsel took no stance on her readmission, which the Louisiana Supreme Court cited in its reinstatement of her credentials.
Two of Benge’s peers ended up in federal prison due kickbacks they were found to have received during the “Operation Wrinkled Robe” investigation.