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State Prosecutor Recommends Renfer Be Removed from

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RALEIGH — After hearing from about 30 witnessesduring two days of testimony, the state Judicial Standards Commissionmust now decide whether to recommend any sort of discipline for WakeDistrict Court Judge Susan Renfer.

Complaints allege that Renfer is soobsessed with swift and sure justice that, among other things, she refusedto delay hearingsand sentenced defendants who didn't have attorneys. Renfer has repeatedlydenied the allegations against her.

The Judicial Standards Commission will forward its recommendation tothe N.C. Supreme Court, which ultimately rules on the complaints.Punishment could range from reprimand to removal from the bench. The stateattorney presenting evidence against Renfer during the two-day hearingasked the state commission to recommend that Renfer be removed from theBench.

It was no small irony that Monday, in her own case, Renfer asked for adelay becauseshedidn't have an attorney.

Judge Renfer asked the Judicial Standards Commission for a delay sayingher attorney discovered a conflict at the last moment.When she didn't get it, Renfer refused to represent herself.

"This is a very important hearing and I need to berepresented by counsel so I regret that they dismissed my motion whichmeans I am not able to be represented by counsel," she said.

Renfer said after the hearings Tuesday that she was confident that thestate Supreme Court would agree that she did not receive a full and fairhearing since she was not represented by an attorney.

Renfer asked noquestions during the hearings andmade no statements as witness after witness complained that the judge had:

  • "Stormed off the bench" and grabbed an attorney by the lapels.
  • Ignored a plea agreement and sent a defendant back to jail.
  • "Berated and badgered" a defendant into pleading guilty.
  • Sentenced other defendants without benefit of attorneys or trials.
  • When asked about the complaints, Renfer said, "I really can't respond toany of the factual things, but Iappreciate you asking."

    Renfer is a Republican in a courthouse full of Democrats.While she stops short of calling the process political, supporters such asDennis Priest, don't mind doing so.

    "It is an attempt to obtain by these means what they wereunable to obtain at the ballot box," Priest said. "It is a horrible,arrogant, flagrant abuse of power."

    At issue were 15 specific allegations contained in ninecomplaints against Renfer, who was the first Republican in recentmemory to be elected a Wake County judge.

    Renfer said after the hearing adjourned today that she wasconfident that the State Supreme Court would agree with her thatshe did not have a full and

    Former U.S. attorney Thomas McNamara testified that Renfercalled him to the bench in her courtroom and berated him forsupporting her political opponent in the 1994 election.

    ``She was just amazed I could support him,'' McNamara said.``This went on for maybe a minute, a minute and a half. She wasgetting more and more upset.''

    McNamara and Renfer both were Republicans, but McNamara said hesupported Democrat Jerry Leonard, whom Renfer defeated. Leonard hadcome under criticism after he was caught urinating in public at ahotel.

    McNamara said he was intimidated and concerned how Renfer wouldtreat his clients in her court. He also said she later told him shethought the conversation occurred in the hallway.

    Once Renfer took herself off the bench after that, but refusedto a second time and told McNamara she'd consulted a lawyer anddidn't have to.

    One attorney said the judge set a $3,000 cash bond for hisclient without considering the man's record. The bond was loweredby a Superior Court judge, said attorney Karl Knudsen, after thelawyer hunted the judge down in his office after hours.

    Renfer was stoic through most of the testimony. She blushedwhen Knudsen said her understanding of law had improved, but ``on manyoccasions, she did not appear to have a rudimentary understandingof criminal law.''

    Renfer also has been accused of angrily jerking the blouse of adefense attorney appearing in her court. She was acquitted ofassault by a Superior Court jury. Renfer had argued during thattrial that she was only trying to help the attorney with a brokenclasp.

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