Felon has ties to new federal judge
BATON ROUGE- Serious questions are being raised after the News 2 Investigative Unit spotted a convicted felon entering and exiting a federal judge's home.
Judge Shelly Dick is new to the bench. She was appointed by President Barack Obama, confirmed by the Senate in May, and formally sworn in last month.
Dwaine Hodges is a federal felon scheduled to be sentenced next week. Legal experts and others are raising questions about whether Judge Dick should have used better judgment, when a convicted felon was allowed into her home for weeks. It happened even after she knew about his pending federal case. Although Judge Dick is not the sentencing judge on Hodges' case, some believe she should have used better discretion knowing he was awaiting federal sentencing.
Wearing a collared-shirt and shorts, convicted felon Dwaine Hodges appeared to have unfettered access as he entered and exited Judge Shelly Dick's home during the month of September. The News 2 Investigative Unit captured him on camera on four different occasions coming and going. On one of those days, a high-end security company was installing security equipment inside the Judge's home, as the convicted felon worked right in front of them.
Rafael Goyeneche, a state corruption watchdog, believes this situation raises ethical questions.
"Common sense would say if a judge knows someone has an open case, and this is still an open case, he hasn't been sentenced, if you're going to employ them you need to be very careful," Goyeneche said.
Hodges pleaded guilty two years ago for his role in a bribery scheme in the City of New Orleans, which resulted in numerous convictions and culminated with the indictment of former Mayor Ray Nagin. Hodges acted as a middle man to distribute bribe money from a city hall tech vendor to another city employee. The bribe money ultimately landed some companies millions of dollars of work.
Hodges faces a maximum possible sentence of five years in prison for his role in the bribery scheme. It's likely he'll receive a reduced sentence.
Text messages obtained offer an insight to Hodges' thoughts about the case. The Investigative Unit verified the messages were sent from Dwaine Hodges' cell phone to another person. This was sent from Hodges' phone:
Hodges: "...at this time to be working for a Federal Judge."
Response: "I think it will work in your favor."
Hodges: "I hope so. I think it has had an effect on my legal counsel."
Response: "Well, lets hope theres an effect on legal decision makers."
Hodges: "I agree. Federal Judges are powerful people"
After seeing Hodges come and go from Judge Dick's home, News 2 caught up with him to ask a series of questions. We wanted to know if the judge was playing a role in his case.
"No comment," Hodges said.
Hodges' attorney told News 2 that Judge Shelly Dick never gave him legal advice, but said Dick's husband did write a recommendation letter to Hodges' sentencing judge.
"It is hard to see exactly how this doesn't risk the appearance of impropriety or maybe even perhaps jeopardize the case," said Robert Scott, Director of the Public Affairs Research Council. PAR is an organization that speaks out about public issues.
"It's hard to see an explanation of this in which she is not taking some risk with the public trust," Scott said. "It is hard to see a good rationale for it."
News 2 requested an on-camera interview with Judge Dick. We hand-delivered two letters, and received no response. Dick did speak to News 2 over the phone and said she never provided Hodges legal advice. She also said Hodges has been renovating a bathroom at her home, and that he's a friend. Dick said their children date each other, and she knew about his pending federal case.
"Dwaine Hodges needs help," his attorney, Mary Olive Pierson said. "He needs money. He needs to earn a living, and she's helping him do that."
It's a case that concerns a number of people. Loyola Law Professor Dane Ciolino says federal judges are held to the highest standards. Their codes of conduct are called cannons, and are very clear.
"The code of conduct has a general prohibition against judges engaging in conduct that has even the appearance of impropriety," Ciolino said.
Others across the state believe Dick's relationship to the felon raises legal questions. With just four months on the bench, Rafael Goyeneche believes Judge Dick may have violated the Judicial Code of Conduct if she gave Hodges legal advice.
"I certainly think an additional investigation needs to be conducted," Goyeneche said. "The judge owes the public an explanation, a full explanation of the circumstances of her relationship with this individual."
Hodges' attorney told News 2 in advance of his sentencing he's been doing community service and trying to hold down a job in hopes of pulling his life back together.
Hodges is scheduled for sentencing on October 17.