A misconduct complaint has been filed against a federal judge in California after a defendant’s 13-year-old daughter was handcuffed in court while crying in an attempt to scare her, according to court documents.
US District Judge Roger Benitez of San Diego was holding a hearing to revoke a supervised release on February 13.
The defendant, who was serving a prison sentence for drug trafficking, informed the judge that he was trying to leave the city to get his daughter away from people who could «take her down the same path that I traveled,» according to court transcripts Presented by the defendant’s attorney.
Do you have wives? Benitez, a senior judge, asked a federal marshal, according to court documents.
Benítez then ordered the 13-year-old girl to leave the spectator area, come to the front of the courtroom and stand next to her father’s lawyer, the transcripts say.
He ordered the bailiff to handcuff her hands behind her back and instructed her to sit in a jury box for a few minutes, the documents say. She was crying continuously, according to court documents.
Benítez released her and removed the handcuffs. He told her that she was «a very nice young woman,» but if she didn’t stay away from drugs, she would «end up in handcuffs» and be «right there where I put you a minute ago,» the documents say.
The incident prompted an investigation by Chief Judge for the Southern District of California, Dana Sabraw, who contacted the Superior Court for the Ninth Circuit about the allegations on February 17.
Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Mary Murguía issued an order on Tuesday confirming an investigation and saying that it «identified an allegation of misconduct against Judge Benítez.»
Benítez did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
Mayra López, who represented the defendant, said in her court filing that it was the first time the man’s daughter had attended his hearings and that Benítez’s actions were «psychologically harmful and damaging.»
“Psychologists have found that shackling is ‘juvenile humiliating,’ who are more vulnerable than adults to lasting harm from feeling humiliation and shame,” Lopez said.
Lopez did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon.
Michele McKenzie, who represents 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 that experience other than as an attempt to shame and humiliate her into acting in the future,» he said. “There are so many ways, particularly when you’re the one in the gown, to go up to a member of the public, to go up to a family member, to go up to a child and say, ‘I want good things for you. you’, and that’s not the way to do it. You are showing your power by force. That’s just not acceptable.»
McKenzie said the judge should either issue a public apology or receive «public censure.»
Benítez sentenced the girl’s father to 10 months in prison for violating the terms of his supervised release, but the man was sentenced again to a term already served by a different judge, according to the court. San Diego Union Tribune.
Benítez was nominated for the position in 2004 by President George W. Bush. His nomination was overwhelmingly opposed by a committee of the American Bar Associationwho said other judges and lawyers described him as arrogant, short-tempered and «totally lacking in social skills.»
Benítez drew scrutiny in 2021 when he upheld California’s three-decade assault weapons ban and compared the AR-15 rifle, which has been wielded in some of the deadliest mass shootings in the US in recent years, to with a Swiss army knife that could be used «for both household and battle».