Federal judge says no ethical problem in hiring felon

A Baton Rouge federal judge said Friday she hired a convicted felon to install tile in a water-damaged bathroom of her family’s Baton Rouge home, but has not attempted to influence his future sentencing in a New Orleans case.

The judge, U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick, who took office in May, noted Friday that the felon, Baton Rouge resident Dwaine Hodges, is a family friend whose youngest daughter has dated her youngest son for four years.

Hodges has not yet been sentenced for his guilty plea in a New Orleans federal court to a charge of conspiracy to commit bribery. He could be sentenced to as many as five years in prison and fined $250,000.

Dick’s husband wrote a letter on Hodges’ behalf to U.S. District Judge Eldon E. Fallon in New Orleans.

“My husband wrote a character letter,” Dick said, adding that the letter did not include her name or any reference to the fact that she is a judge.

Dick would not release a copy of the letter. She said the practice of federal judges is not to include such letters in the public court file because they do not want to discourage friends or relatives from commenting on the character of felons who are about to be sentenced.

About two weeks ago, after Hodges began repairs and improvements to her bathroom, Dick said, she consulted the administrative office of the federal courts system in Washington, D.C.

“They said there was no ethical prohibition to me hiring somebody like that,” Dick said.

“I’m sure Dwaine made a mistake, but that’s not my business,” Dick said. “He’s done a fabulous job on my bathroom.”

Loyola Law Professor Dane Ciolino told WBRZ-TV: “The code of conduct has a general prohibition against judges engaging in conduct that has even the appearance of impropriety.”

Rafael Goyeneche, executive director of the Metropolitan Crime Commission in New Orleans, told WBRZ: “The judge owes the public an explanation, a full explanation of the circumstances of her relationship with this individual (Hodges).”

In his criminal case in New Orleans, Hodges admitted he delivered approximately $20,000 in bribes to Anthony Jones, chief technology officer for that city. Hodges also told Fallon, the judge in his case, that he delivered those bribes in the form of checks “at Mark St. Pierre’s insistence and direction.”

In addition, Hodges told the judge, St. Pierre, of Belle Chasse, ordered the payoffs to Jones “in exchange for Anthony Jones’ cooperation in approving and expediting payments on contracts involving the City of New Orleans and companies controlled by Mark St. Pierre.”

Hodges agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors.

On Sept. 1, 2011, after conviction at trial on charges of wire fraud, bribery and conspiracy to launder money, St. Pierre was sentenced by Fallon to more than 17 years in federal prison. Fallon also ordered St. Pierre to forfeit $3.2 million in assets.

Mary Olive Pierson, one of Hodges’ attorneys, said publicity over Dick’s hiring of Hodges has adversely affected the judge’s son and Hodges’ daughter.

“They’re sweethearts,” Pierson said of the couple. “She thinks her life is over because she thinks she has somehow disgraced Judge Dick. That’s not right.”

Added Pierson: “Dwaine Hodges is simply trying to support his family and the judge’s family gave him a job. That’s the end of it.”

Hodges “is not some vicious serial killer,” Pierson said. “The judge consulted with other judges, and they all said there is nothing improper about this.”

Michael S. Walsh, president of the Baton Rouge Bar Association, chairman of the Louisiana State Bar Association’s criminal law section, and an adjunct professor who teaches legal ethics at LSU’s law school, said Dick has not done anything wrong.

“Judge Dick knows the rules of judicial conduct, and I’m confident she would never do anything to violate them. I’m equally confident she has not violated them,” Walsh said.