Business as Usual?

Business relationships between judges and wealthy litigants may hold the key to many instances of judicial corruption as illustrated by the following example.

According to a November 2002 FBI affidavit, Jefferson Parish District Court Judge Ronald Bodenheimer issued rulings favorable to wealthy restaurateur Al Copeland in a child custody case in the expectation that Copeland would purchase seafood for his restaurant chain from the Venetian Isles marina that Bodenheimer operated in eastern New Orleans [1].

This relationship would have gone unnoticed had it not been for Bodenheimer's earlier arrest on charges of conspiring to plant drugs in the truck of an outspoken critic of his poorly-maintained shrimp dock, where a teenager had been electrocuted by a faulty conveyer mechanism [2].

Bodenheimer was also charged with attempting to recruit two police officers to arrest the whistleblower, who would be in possession of the drug planted by Bodenheimer's accomplice [3].

Bodenheimer, who chose not to run for reelection, entered a plea to use his campaign contributions for his legal defense.  This audacious request was eventually approved by the state Board of Ethics [4] despite the Board's initial objections [5].

In the end, Bodenheimer finally confessed to all charges [6], including accepting $16,000-worth of fuel at his marina from a seafood wholesaler who appeared before him on a criminal charge [7].  The former judge is expected to go to prison for more than 3 years [6].

On September 21, 2007 Bodenheimer was released from confinement to begin three years of probation [8].

This case teaches that the property holdings and business relationships of judges must be scrutinized to determine whether there could be a conflict of interest between a judge and the litigant or attorney who comes before him.  It also suggests that the authority to decide questions of judicial impropriety should be removed from judges, who are usually self-serving, and placed in the hands of a truly independent body.

  1. Martha Carr, "Copeland child custody case resumes; Boy's mom fights Bodenheimer moves," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, January 22, 2003, p. B-1.

  2. Martha Carr, "Parents settle electrocution lawsuit; But Bodenheimer could face a trial," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, January 10, 2003, p. 1.

  3. Manuel Torres, "Cops are in Bodenheimer indictment; New document says judge tried to recruit 2 officers for scheme," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, January 17, 2003, p. 1.

  4. Laura Maggi, "Campaign money can fund judge's defense," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, March 14, 2003, p. A-3.

  5. Martha Carr, "Ethics board rejects Bodenheimer plea; Campaign money can't pay for defense," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, October 11, 2002, p. 1.

  6. Martha Carr and Manuel Torres, "Jeff judge confesses in 3 schemes; Bodenheimer agrees to help in courthouse corruption probe," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, April 1, 2003, p. A-1.

  7. James Gill, "Let's make a deal," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, April 2, 2003, p. B-7.

  8. Meghan Gordon, "Jailed judge allowed to go home; Bodenheimer begins 3 years of probation," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, September 22, 2007, National, p. 1.
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