The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, based in San Francisco, is looking into a misconduct complaint against a federal judge in Southern California who tried to traumatize a 13-year-old girl by handcuffing her for attending her father’s court trial.
According to a sentencing memorandum filed by the defendant’s attorneys, which cited a transcript of the proceedings, US District Court Judge Roger Benitez paused a February 13 hearing in San Diego to summon the defendant’s teenaged daughter, who was attending one of her father’s hearings for the first time.
Prior to the event, the defendant told the judge that he intended to leave the area once he was released and voiced anxiety about his daughter hanging out with the wrong people.
According to the memorandum, which was submitted on February 23, Judge Benitez instructed a marshal to handcuff the crying child and tell her to sit in the jury box. According to the document, she continued to cry.
According to the paper, there was a long pause before Benitez had a marshal remove the girl’s handcuffs. Before allowing her to return to her seat, he admonished her, dubbed her “an extraordinarily cute young woman,” and told her that if she didn’t keep away from narcotics, she’d end herself back in handcuffs, according to court filings.
“I think the aim was to disgrace or humiliate her,” said Michele McKenzie, the girl’s and mother’s attorney.
“I believe there was a very obvious message conveyed to her by someone with enormous power.”
In an email to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Benitez’s administrative law clerk stated that the judge “regrets that he is not permitted to comment on matters pending before the court.”
The kid attended the court with her aunt and a family friend to offer support for her father, who planned to admit to violating his supervised release and be sentenced to ten months in prison. The recently filed sentencing brief requests that the father’s time spent be considered as his sentence.
To protect the seventh-identity, grader’s her lawyer declined to provide her name.
“She feels horrible and was made to feel guilty despite the fact that she has done nothing wrong,” McKenzie told CNN. Benitez’s actions are “completely out of touch with reality,” according to McKenzie. “It demonstrates a fundamental lack of awareness of what families, particularly children of those incarcerated, are going through.”
On February 17, Chief Judge Dana Sabraw of the Southern District of California informed the Supreme Court about the claims. The 9th Circuit’s chief judge, Mary Murguia, stated in an order filed Tuesday that she studied court transcripts and recognized a complaint.
McKenzie stated that her client’s humiliation was made public.
“At the very least, the 9th Circuit should publicly censure him,” McKenzie said, adding that the judge’s actions “convey a message that even by attending a hearing, the public may be a target.”
“I also believe that apologies go a long way,” McKenzie added.
Cummings describes the episode as “unusual” in his 20 years of teaching legal ethics. “I’ve never heard of anything like this before – attacking a little child who is there to assist the defendant,” Cummings said.