Local News

Renfer Resigns From Bench, Accepts Censure

Posted August 8, 1997

— A Wake County District Court judge resigned Friday morning and said she'd never hold judicial office in the state again.

Susan Renfer admitted she made statements and took actions in and out of court that "could be coinsidered by some as less than patient, dignified and courteous to attorneys, witnesses, litigants and court personnel."

After an initial hearing last year, the commission recommended that the state Supreme Court remove Renfer from office because of her alleged misdeeds, including falsifying court records to show that defendants pleaded guilty when they said they were innocent.

The court sent the case back to the commission - the watchdog agency for the state's judges - for another hearing, which took place Friday.

Renfer, who is a very religious person, told WRAL, in the eyes of God she hasn't done anything wrong. But, in the eyes of many others, the judge's resignation is welcome news.

Only five judges have been removed from office in North Carolina history. Renfer loses her job, but the deal her attorneys worked out keeps her off the removal list. The hearing lasted only minutes. But, it could make years of judicial controversy a closed case.

Renfer told WRAL-TV5'sMark Robertsthat she accepted the censure in exchange for the commission dropping 12 of 15 allegation against her. The commission's recommendations must now go to the N.C. Supreme Court.

In a statement released by her attorneys, Renfer said she would return home to Virginia to practice law and help form ``an adoption agency with an international ministry."

Attorney John Stepanovich, who works for a legal center created by Virginia evangelist Pat Robertson, said the adoption agency has no connection with Robertson's organization. He said he did not know where Renfer planned to live or any details of her new position.

Renfer told Roberts that she had moved to Lynchburg, Va.

Court of Appeals Judge John Lewis Jr., the commission's chairman, said it would be at least two weeks before the commission would make its formal recommendation to the Supreme Court.

Lawyer Mary Mendini, who had filed a complaint with the commission, stating that Renfer had assaulted her by grabbing her blouse, said she was satisfied with the outcome.

"I'm just grateful that everything is over," Mendini told WRAL. Renfer was acquitted in 1995 of the assault charge. Mendini said Renfer became enraged because she thought the lawyer's blouse gapped open too wide.

Renfer, 44, cleaned out her office at the courthouse last month and left her keys on her desk. She also has put her Raleigh townhouse on the market.

After an initial hearing last year, the commission recommended that the state Supreme Court remove Renfer from office because of her alleged misdeeds, including falsifying court records to show that defendants pleaded guilty when they said they were innocent.

Renfer, 44, cleaned out her office at the courthouse last month and left her keys on her desk. She also has put her Raleigh townhouse on the market.

Renfer, a graduate of the University of Virginia law school, worked as a conservative lobbyist and activist before her election to the bench in 1994.

Before long, court employees, lawyers, sheriff's deputies, other judges and citizens were complaining about Renfer's lack of knowledge about North Carolina law and her brusque, controlling manner. She was acquitted in 1995 of assaulting a female lawyer whose blouse gapped open too wide for Renfer's liking.

In May 1996, the commission - the watchdog agency for the state's judges - filed an eight-page complaint against Renfer, accusing her of bringing disrepute to the court. A second complaint was filed in September 1996.

In October, the commission's first hearing in Renfer's case became an unchallenged recitation of the charges. Renfer did not have an attorney, and she complained that the commission, which called for her removal from the bench, should have granted her a delay to find one.

The Supreme Court agreed that the commission should have allowed her more time to find an attorney and told the commission to hold a new hearing.

Early in her troubles, Renfer's friends said she believed herself the target of a political conspiracy to rid the courthouse of its first elected Republican District Court judge.

In April, the American Center for Law and Justice sent out a fund-raising letter saying Renfer was the victim of anti-Christian bigotry. The center, created by evangelist Pat Robertson for cases involving church-state separation, is providing her legal services.

Three charges remain against Renfer, changing a defendant's plea, deciding a case in the absence of an attorney, and not giving credit for time served. For those she'll be censured.

From staff and wire reports Copyright ©1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or distributed.

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