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A Judge’s DWI Arrest

What the cameras tell

Video of United States District Judge Patricia Minaldi’s arrest for DWI in 2014 in Lake Charles should give all police extra incentive to keep their body-cameras in working order and officialdom more accountable.

Police arrested the judge, who has ties to New Orleans, outside her Lake Charles home three years ago. Public interest in the judge and her continuing battle with alcohol has begun to spill outside the southwest Louisiana area only recently – thanks to calls for more transparency of court records by the Lake Charles American Press and The Associated Press.

Video of Minaldi’s arrest posted by KALC-TV may offer some teachable moments for police in New Orleans and elsewhere. “This case illustrates people in power also need to be monitored,” says Peter Scharf, a criminologist at LSU Health Care Sciences Center at New Orleans. “Police need a defense against abuse by officialdom.”

In the police video of Minaldi’s arrest, the judge isn’t visible but she can be heard arguing with cops and refusing repeated requests to step out of her vehicle.

 “You were driving the wrong way on the Interstate,” an officer tells the judge, adding she was driving “extremely recklessly.” The officer says she crossed the centerline of the highway several times.

The judge won’t budge.

 “Mrs. Minaldi…” the officer says.

 “Judge,” she says, correcting him.

 “Judge Minaldi…,” the officer says.

Minaldi still won’t move, adding she can stay in her car because she is on her property.

 A woman officer removes a glass filled with what police insist is wine and pours it on the ground in full view of the police dash-cam. When police finally take the judge into custody, one officer begins to recite the Miranda rights.

“I know that,” the judge replies with slurred anger in her voice. “God! You think I don’t know that.”

During her ride to jail, the judge asks to speak to ranking police officials. She is told a deputy chief is on vacation. The name of another top cop is inaudible.

Once at the jail, we finally see the back of the judge. She is uncuffed. An officer escorts her away from the transporting patrol car. Suddenly, we hear the voice of the arresting officer again.

 “What are they doing?” he asks someone off camera.

“Bringing her to the Chief’s office,” the second officer says.

 “Why?” the arresting officer asks sharply. If there’s an answer, it’s not audible. Judge Minaldi is initially booked with driving with alcohol in an open container.

Soon thereafter, Lake Charles news media obtain copies of the dash-cam footage. Judge Minaldi is then charged with first offense – DWI. She pleads guilty and is sentenced to one year probation. She pays $400 in fines, takes a defensive driving class and a course sponsored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. She also is allowed to attend church once a week instead of performing community service.

Ironically, community service helped Minaldi earn Senate confirmation as President George W. Bush’s nominee for a lifetime appointment to a federal judgeship in Lake Charles.

In the spring of 2003, Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, endorsed the nomination of Patricia Head Minaldi, a Republican and state judge “known to her friends as Patty”, in introductory remarks to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary at Washington D.C. Senator Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, now the United States Attorney General, chaired the Senate proceeding.

Landrieu praised Minaldi’s “exceptional legal background” as a criminal prosecutor and state judge. “As in so many areas of her life, Patty’s ties to the community inspired her work for the Child Advocacy Center,” which she helped to establish for Lake Charles children victimized by violent crime.

Born in 1959 in Somerville, Massachusetts, Minaldi earned her law degree at Tulane University. From 1983 to 1986, she worked as a felony assistant district attorney for the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office. She then spent 10 years prosecuting criminal cases for the Calcasieu Parish D.A. She served as a state judge in Lake Charles, from 1996-2003.

Judge Minaldi was confirmed by the Senate on May 6, 2003, 14 years ago last month. Now 58, Minaldi is on medical leave. She says she is “winning” her battle with alcohol abuse.

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