The Perdigao saga is a story that won’t away. In fact, though his ass is still in a very large crack, we’ll give Perdigao round 1. The topic today is Ronald Sholes and we’ll start with T-P institution James Gill and his take on Perdigao and problems at the NOLA traffic court:
A state district judge looking to better himself would not, in most jurisdictions, seek a seat on a city court.
But New Orleans has a great judicial racket going that makes what would elsewhere be a demotion a coveted move.
When Ron Sholes, then a Civil District Court Judge, decided to run for Traffic Court 10 years ago, he acknowledged that he was doing it for the money.
Sure he would suffer a 20 percent cut in salary. But Traffic Court judges work half a day — unless they don’t feel like turning up at all — and are free to maintain a law practice at the same time.
Once Sholes had been elected, and landed a job on the side at Adams and Reese, his household budget must have looked quite healthy. Now he earns around $90,000 a year from the court alone.
Adams and Reese is a large firm with a peculiar fondness for hiring politicians. Sholes fit right in, according to former Adams and Reese partner Jamie Perdigao, and carved out a niche as the firm’s ticket-fixer.
Perdigao has alleged all kinds of jiggery-pokery by his former colleagues, but is hardly the most trustworthy of characters. Adams and Reese fired him when $30 million went missing and he is now awaiting trial. Still, what he says about Sholes has to a large extent been verified.
Sholes concedes that Adams and Reese lawyers and clients called on him for help when they or their friends got a traffic ticket. A fastidious jurist would have shrunk, and maybe noted that an Adams and Reese lawyer ought to know that it is verboten for judges to hob-nob unilaterally with a party to a pending case. Sholes, however, is an obliging soul and most of the tickets disappeared.
Traffic and Municipal Court judges in New Orleans are unusually prone to conflicting loyalties. The courts have morning judges and afternoon judges — each with a full retinue of minute clerks, stenographers, criers, court reporters and such — so that half of every day is available for gainful employment elsewhere.
In addition to their six weeks of vacation, judges can appoint replacements, on the taxpayer dollar, whenever they are not inclined to take the bench. The system, even were it not inherently corruptive, would still be a colossal waste of money.
The only drawback for a Traffic Court judge is that processing penny-ante cases even for a few hours daily must be a bit of a bore. A DWI trial must be about as intellectually stimulating as it gets. Perhaps that is one of the reasons Sholes was planning to run for the state Court of Appeal until copies of faxes sent from Adams and Reese to Sholes’ court employees were posted on the internet.
From now on Adams and Reese will presumably have to do without its pipeline to Traffic Court, or at least not be dumb enough to put everything in writing. Sholes, meanwhile, can expect to hear from the Judiciary Commission since, by his own admission in a press interview, he violated the rule against “ex parte interviews, arguments or communications.”
In that interview, Sholes, as errant public officials often do when trying to explain themselves, managed to embarrass himself even further. Acknowledging that “a judge should never speak to one side without the other being present,” he added, “I think that most people would say that’s not the way we do it” in Traffic Court.
Right, judge, that’s why most people think Traffic Court stinks.
Sholes explained that he helped defendants out because it would have been “nearly impossible” for them to contact prosecutors, who have the discretion to dismiss charges.
The may be true, but for run-of-the-mill defendants, of course, it is absolutely impossible to contact the judge before trial and ask for a favor.
“I’m a soft heart on some things,” Sholes explained. Sure. One of them is Adams, and the other is Reese.
Of course the internet website those tickets showed up on that caused Mr Sholes to think better of running for that seat on the court of appeals is none other than slabbed. 😳
Now the full editorial board at the T-P isn’t sitting on their hands either. The stench of official corruption at Adams & Reese and the traffic court is too much for them to stomach:
Traffic Court Judge Ronald Sholes says that he intercedes on behalf of traffic defendants outside of his courtroom as a matter of practicality and because he just has a soft heart.
Motorists can’t get access to the prosecutor, who has the power to dismiss charges, Judge Sholes says, so he takes their calls. “If I can assist someone, and they’re not a regular violator, I probably would have done it,” he said.
But the outcome of traffic cases shouldn’t hinge on whether a defendant has access to a judge.
The state’s Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits judges from discussing pending cases unless both parties are present. The code also says that judges shall not “knowingly accept in any case briefs, documents or written communications intended to influence his or her action, unless the contents are promptly made known to all parties.”
Monroe Freedman, a professor at Hofstra University who is a nationally known scholar on legal ethics, called Judge Sholes’ interventions “low-level rot” and corruption. And the Metropolitan Crime Commission says that someone with subpoena power needs to investigate.
Judge Sholes’ actions do warrant scrutiny, and the Judiciary Commission should be taking a hard look at how he handled communications with defendants.
Traffic court documents from 1999 and 2000 show a pattern of “ex parte” communications between Judge Sholes and defendants. In 29 of 41 cases where he intervened, charges ended up being dismissed by another judge or a prosecutor.
Lawyer Jamie Perdigao, who faces charges that he stole $30 million from law firm Adams and Reese, filed a civil racketeering case that claims the firm hired Judge Sholes shortly after his election in 1998 and used him as a ticket “fixer.”
Judge Sholes denies that he ever accepted anything for his intervention and says he resents the implication that Adams and Reese was selling his services. And one certainly has reason to question Mr. Perdigao’s motives.
But faxes that were e-mailed anonymously to The Times-Picayune show that more than a dozen members of Adams and Reese sought the judge’s help with traffic citations — those of their family members and friends.
Mr. Perdigao’s lawsuit claims that Judge Sholes would send traffic citation information to Traffic Court clerk Mickey Torregano with a faxed cover sheet asking him to “look into the attached” or “research and handle accordingly.”
It’s difficult to tell from those messages the extent of the judge’s involvement, and Judge Sholes’ explanation doesn’t shed much more light: ” ‘Take care of it’ means ‘look at it, make sure it’s not a regular violator, and depending on the nature, reset for a hearing,’ Or ‘give it to the court administrator’ or ‘dismiss it,’ ” he said.
That’s an awful lot of subtext, and it’s hard to fathom how Mr. Torregano knew which of those meanings the judge intended when he fired off a fax.
Judge Sholes said he would be “surprised” if a ticket were dismissed simply because someone was connected. But that’s sure how it looks. “These communications apparently created the attitude on the part of individuals that because they knew him, they would receive some degree of favored treatment,” said Mr. Freedman. “And that’s just wrong.”
So is Judge Sholes’ cavalier attitude toward Traffic Court. He acknowledges that judges shouldn’t speak to one side without the other being present — and says that wouldn’t be acceptable in a murder case.
“But to run a traffic court like that, I think most would say that’s not the way we do it,” he said. “And I don’t think that is what the public would want me to do.”
Apparently, Judge Sholes thinks Louisianians want one standard of judicial conduct for violent crime and another for traffic infractions. But what the public wants, and what the law demands, is fair and ethical behavior at all levels of the justice system.
Judge Sholes seems to have little respect for the court he presides over or the Judicial Code of Conduct, and that’s disgraceful.