California federal judge is under investigation after handcuffing defendant’s 13-year-old in court
A misconduct complaint has been filed against a federal judge in California after a defendant’s 13-year-old daughter was handcuffed in court as she cried in an attempt to scare him, court documents show.
U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez of San Diego was conducting a hearing to revoke a supervised release on February 13.
The defendant, who was finishing a prison sentence for drug trafficking, informed the judge that he was trying to leave town to keep his daughter away from people who might “lead her down the same path as me”, according to court transcripts filed by the defendant’s attorney.
“Do you have handcuffs?” Benitez, a senior judge, asked a U.S. Marshal, according to court documents.
Benitez then ordered the 13-year-old to leave the spectator area, approach the front of the courtroom and stand next to her father’s lawyer, according to the transcripts.
He ordered the marshal to handcuff his hands behind his back and ordered him to sit in a jury box for a few minutes, according to the documents. She was crying continuously, according to court documents.
Benitez released her and made her remove the handcuffs. He told her that she was “an awfully cute young lady” but that if she didn’t stay away from drugs she would “find herself handcuffed” and be “right where I put you a while ago. one minute,” the documents said.
The incident sparked an investigation by Southern California District Chief Judge Dana Sabraw, who contacted the Upper 9th Circuit about the allegations on February 17.
9th Circuit Chief Judge Mary Murguia issued an order Tuesday confirming an investigation and saying she “has identified a misconduct complaint against Judge Benitez.”
Benitez did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Mayra Lopez, who represented the defendant, said in her court filing that this was the first time the man’s daughter had attended his hearings and that Benitez’s actions were “psychologically damaging and harmful”.
“Psychologists have found that shackling is ‘humiliating for young people,’ who are more vulnerable than adults to lasting damage from humiliation and shame,” Lopez said.
Lopez did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon.
Michele McKenzie, who is representing the teenager and her mother, said: ‘She is confused and embarrassed. She is only 13 years old.
“I don’t think there’s any other way to read this experience other than an attempt to shame and humiliate him in some kind of future action,” she said. “There are so many ways, especially when you’re the one wearing the dress, to reach out to a member of the public, to reach out to a family member, to reach out to a child and say “I want good things for you”, and that’s not the way to do it. You show your power by force. It’s just not acceptable.
McKenzie said the judge should issue a public apology or receive a “public censure.”
Benitez sentenced the girl’s father to 10 months in prison for violating the conditions of his supervised release, but the man was sentenced to time already served by another judge, according to the San Diego Union Tribune.
Benitez was appointed to the bench in 2004 by President George W. Bush. His appointment was overwhelmingly opposed by a committee of the American Bar Association, which said other judges and lawyers described him as arrogant, hot-tempered and “completely lacking in interpersonal skills”.
Benitez came under scrutiny in 2021 when he blocked California’s three-decade-old assault weapons ban and compared the AR-15 rifle, which has been used in some of the deadliest mass shootings in the United States in recent years, to a Swiss army knife that could be used “at home and in battle”.
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