Investigation underway after judge traumatized 13-year-old American girl by handcuffing her for attending public hearing to support her father
The United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, located in San Francisco, is investigating an allegation of misconduct against a Southern California federal judge who attempted to traumatize a 13-year-old girl by handcuffing her for coming to her father’s trial.
U.S. District Court Judge Roger Benitez adjourned a February 13 hearing in San Diego to call the defendant’s teenage daughter, who was attending one of her father’s hearings for the first time, according to a sentencing memorandum filed by counsel for the accused, which cited a transcript. of the procedure.
Prior to the incident, the defendant told the judge he planned to leave the area once released and expressed concern that his daughter was hanging out with the wrong people.
Minutes later, Judge Benitez ordered a marshal to handcuff the girl, who was crying, and told her to sit in the jury box, according to the memorandum, which was filed Feb. 23. She continued to cry, the document says.
There was a long pause, according to the document, and Benitez then had a marshal remove the handcuffs from the girl. But before allowing her to return to her seat, he scolded the girl, called her “an awfully cute young lady” and warned her that if she didn’t stay away from drugs, she would end up handcuffed, according to court documents.
“I think the intention was to embarrass or humiliate her,” said Michele McKenzie, a lawyer representing the girl and her mother.
“I think that was the very clear message that was sent to him by someone with tremendous power.”
Benitez’s administrative law clerk told the San Diego Union-Tribune in an email that the judge “regrets not being permitted to comment on matters pending before the court.”
The girl showed up with her aunt and a family friend to show her support for her father during a hearing in which he planned to admit the violations of his probation and be sentenced to 10 month. The newly filed sentencing memorandum asks the court to consider the time spent by the father as his sentence.
His attorney declined to share the seventh-grader’s name to protect his identity.
“She feels bad and felt bad when she didn’t do anything wrong,” McKenzie told CNN. Benitez’s actions are “really out of touch with reality,” McKenzie said. “It shows a complete lack of understanding of what families are going through – especially the children of those in the criminal justice system.”
Chief Judge Dana Sabraw of the Southern District of California contacted the superior court on February 17 about the allegations. Mary Murguia, Chief Judge of the 9th Circuit, said in an order filed Tuesday that she had reviewed the court transcripts and identified a complaint.
McKenzie said her client’s humiliation was public.
“At a minimum, the 9th Circuit should publicly censor him,” McKenzie said, adding that the judge’s actions “send a message that even while attending a hearing, the public could be a target.”
“I also think apologies go a long way,” McKenzie said.
Cummings calls the incident “unprecedented” in his 20 years as a professor of legal ethics. “I’ve never heard of anything like that – targeting a young child who’s there to support the accused,” Cummings said.