Local News

State Prosecutor Recommends Renfer Be Removed from

Posted October 15, 1996 12:00 a.m. EDT

— After hearing from about 30 witnesses during two days of testimony, the state Judicial Standards Commission must now decide whether to recommend any sort of discipline for Wake District Court Judge Susan Renfer.

Complaints allege that Renfer is so obsessed with swift and sure justice that, among other things, she refused to delay hearings and sentenced defendants who didn't have attorneys. Renfer has repeatedly denied the allegations against her.

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

It was no small irony that Monday, in her own case, Renfer asked for a delay because she didn't have an attorney.

Judge Renfer asked the Judicial Standards Commission for a delay saying her 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 be represented by counsel so I regret that they dismissed my motion which means I am not able to be represented by counsel," she said.

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

Renfer asked no questions during the hearings and made 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 to any of the factual things, but I appreciate you asking."

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

    "It is an attempt to obtain by these means what they were unable 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 nine complaints against Renfer, who was the first Republican in recent memory to be elected a Wake County judge.

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

    Former U.S. attorney Thomas McNamara testified that Renfer called him to the bench in her courtroom and berated him for supporting 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 was getting more and more upset.''

    McNamara and Renfer both were Republicans, but McNamara said he supported Democrat Jerry Leonard, whom Renfer defeated. Leonard had come under criticism after he was caught urinating in public at a hotel.

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

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

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

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

    Renfer also has been accused of angrily jerking the blouse of a defense attorney appearing in her court. She was acquitted of assault by a Superior Court jury. Renfer had argued during that trial that she was only trying to help the attorney with a broken clasp.