Published on: Thursday, March 2, 2023

A misconduct complaint has been lodged against a San Diego, California, federal judge who recently handcuffed a crying 13-year-old girl in his courtroom during a court hearing to scare her into not doing drugs and to avoid winding up as a defendant like her father, according to an order from the Ninth Circuit's chief judge (article available here). Previous coverage available here

U.S. District Judge Roger T. Benitez of the Southern District of California is accused of ordering the daughter of a defendant appearing before him to be placed in handcuffs at a hearing Feb. 13, according to the order Chief U.S. Circuit Judge Mary H. Murguia made public Tuesday.

"After conducting an inquiry into the allegations, which included review of the relevant court transcripts, on February 22, 2023, I identified a misconduct complaint against Judge Benitez," Judge Murguia said in her order, which was made public "in order to 'maintain public confidence in the judiciary's ability to redress misconduct or disability.'"

The complaint stems from a final revocation hearing before Judge Benitez on Feb. 13.

Mario Puente's 13-year-old daughter was seated in the gallery during his supervised release revocation hearing. Puente told Judge Benitez at the hearing that he hoped to leave San Diego, in part because he was concerned that his daughter was heading down the same path he had taken concerning the use of drugs.

Judge Benitez then ordered the girl to approach the front of the courtroom, where he told a U.S. marshal to handcuff the girl, who was by then crying, according to the court filing.

The judge instructed the marshal to place the handcuffed girl in the jury box, which the marshal did. After "a long pause," Judge Benitez released the girl, asking her how she liked "the way those cuffs felt on you" and telling her that if she didn't stay away from drugs, she would be "right back there where I put you a minute ago."

Subsequent proceedings regarding the complaint will be handled based on the court's Judicial Conduct and Disability Procedure.

The case is In re: Complaint of Judicial Misconduct, case number 23-90037, before the Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit.