Ronald Bodenheimer will spend one more month in federal prison than he spent on the bench as a state district judge in Jefferson Parish. His sorry, sordid tale will have a certain balance to it after all -- and hopefully that will restore some people's faith in our judicial system.
Right now, the public needs something to believe in.
The Louisiana judiciary has taken some hits in recent years, mostly because of the legal and professional misconduct of a small handful of judges. Bodenheimer is the latest, but there is a widespread expectation that more will follow as the federal investigation into corruption in the Jefferson Parish courthouse continues.
The feds are said to be looking at evidence that other judges may have been corrupted by former bail bonds overlord Louis Marcotte III, who likewise has pleaded guilty to multiple federal criminal charges.
Bodenheimer admitted that he conspired to plant drugs on a critic of his controversial eastern New Orleans marina, manipulated bail bonds for Marcotte and plotted to fix a child custody case for fried chicken king Al Copeland. He got 46 months in federal prison from U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan -- a longer prison term than prosecutors had requested.
Bodenheimer also agreed to cooperate in the ongoing federal probe. Ditto for Marcotte, which is bound to send shivers down a few spines in Jefferson.
Bodenheimer's sentence came just a week after the Louisiana Supreme Court removed Orleans Juvenile Court Judge Yvonne Hughes from her position after examining a mountain of evidence of her incompetence, malfeasance and disdain for the law as both a judge and an attorney. The court issued a 67-page opinion documenting in painstaking detail why Hughes is unfit to sit as a judge, and the justices barred her from qualifying for judicial office for five years.
Hughes is the third New Orleans judge removed from the bench in the last two years as a result of misconduct. The Supreme Court ousted Sharon Hunter from Criminal District Court in 2002 for mismanaging her courtroom and staff, and last October the court yanked C. Hunter King from the bench at Civil District Court for coercing his own staff to work on his reelection campaign and then lying about it under oath. Hunter's incompetence resulted in several murder convictions being overturned. King now faces perjury and public salary extortion charges from New Orleans DA Eddie Jordan's office. He is set to go to trial in a few weeks.
While Bodenheimer and King used their judicial perches for personal or political gain, Hughes mostly ignored commonly accepted (and legally binding) standards of professional conduct. Among other things, she associated with felons by having them work in her court around juveniles (and gave them access to confidential files), and she sprang from jail some 900 people, most of whom were nabbed on traffic and municipal charges. The court also concluded that she ran her court in about as cavalier a manner as possible -- canceling her docket at the last minute, conducting hearings by phone, keeping irregular hours and allowing staffers to "run the docket" in her absence. Considering she ran for office more than a dozen times before finally winning her Juvenile Court seat, one would think she really wanted the job and would do it well.
Then again, Bodenheimer was a highly regarded prosecutor before he became a judge. Who would have thought he'd become a felon himself after taking the bench? The saddest part of all this is the stain it puts on the judiciary as a whole. The overwhelming majority of Louisiana's 300-plus judges are honest, diligent and fair-minded. You don't read about them because they're doing their jobs well, which relegates them to a state of relative obscurity. When we do read about crooked judges, it shakes everyone's faith in the system, which means we all pay for the crimes of a few.