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After questionable decisions from judges, expert says holding them accountable could take legislative action

2 months 3 days 12 hours ago Thursday, September 29 2022 Sep 29, 2022 September 29, 2022 4:28 PM September 29, 2022 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE - After multiple stories from the WBRZ Investigative Unit highlighting questionable decisions from judges, an expert says lawmakers may need to get involved in order to reign in those judges.

Retired Tulane law professor emeritus, Joel Friedman, said judges have a wide level of discretion to make decisions and very rarely do they have to explain their decisions.

"Why the judges do these things is a decision known only to the individual judge," Friedman said.

He's weighing in on decisions made by judges who set bonds for people so low that the suspects managed to get out and commit more crimes.

"There's a tremendous amount of discretion that judges have when making bail decisions," Friedman said. "There's been a plethora of these types of things not just in Baton Rouge but also in Orleans Parish since I've lived there because the judges have discretion."

Last week, the WBRZ Investigative Unit exposed judges Fred Crifasi and Eboni Johnson Rose in Baton Rouge. Both are accused of setting low bonds for violent offenders. Investigators said they managed to get out of jail and commit more crimes.

Judge Jeffrey Cashe in Tangipahoa Parish is another judge who has come under fire for decisions he's made. He became internationally infamous after awarding custody of a child who was born from a rape to the perpetrator. That decision was reversed after the WBRZ Investigative Unit exposed it.

This week, we showed you Cashe also sent a child who alleged she was sexually abused by two men back to the house where the abuse happened for unsupervised visits. Despite the judge saying they should have no contact with the girl, both men live there.

"Unless the legislature changes the law governing the rules for making decisions on bail, the judges have discretion," Friedman said. "They have discretion for lots of things... sentencing too. Why did this guy get one year for killing someone?"

Friedman hasn't been the only one sounding the alarm recently. Retired East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Sergeant Carolyn Stapleton made her life's work being a victims advocate. She said it's time for judges to stop hiding behind decisions they make and take some accountability.

"Be proud of your decision," Stapleton said. "Step up and say, I'm so-and-so and this is why I made that decision. And come election day vote for me for making the decision to put a violent offender back out on the street."

Friedman said if a judge's conduct is egregious enough, they can face impeachment, though it is very rare. Judiciary complaints can be filed against them, but the investigations and outcomes are typically hidden from the public.

"You have to have an allegation of a breach of judicial code of responsibility and ethics and abuse of discretion may not be a sufficient basis for that," Friedman said.

Friedman added that when a judge sets bail, they are looking into what a defendant's charges are, whether they are a flight risk, and what is the threat to the community. In many cases he's dealt with, he says judges had a flexible view about bail to make sure it wasn't being used to incarcerate minority individuals before they can go to trial.

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