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Renfer Resigns From Bench, Accepts Censure

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Susan Renfer is headed to Virginia to practice law
RALEIGH — A Wake County District Court judge resignedFriday morning and said she'd never hold judicial office in the stateagain.

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

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

The court sent the case back to the commission - the watchdogagency for the state's judges - for another hearing, which took placeFriday.

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 offthe removal list. The hearing lasted only minutes. But, it could makeyears of judicial controversy a closed case.

Renfer told WRAL-TV5'sMarkRobertsthat she accepted the censure in exchange for the commissiondropping 12 of 15 allegation against her. The commission's recommendationsmust now go to the N.C. Supreme Court.

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

Attorney John Stepanovich, who works for a legal center createdby Virginia evangelist Pat Robertson, said the adoption agency hasno connection with Robertson's organization. He said he did notknow where Renfer planned to live or any details of her newposition.

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

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

Lawyer Mary Mendini, who had filed a complaint with thecommission, 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 Renferbecame enraged because she thought the lawyer's blousegapped open too wide.

Renfer, 44, cleaned out her office at the courthouse last monthand left her keys on her desk. She also has put her Raleightownhouse on the market.

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

Renfer, 44, cleaned out her office at the courthouse last monthand left her keys on her desk. She also has put her Raleightownhouse on the market.

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

Before long, court employees, lawyers, sheriff's deputies, otherjudges and citizens were complaining about Renfer's lack ofknowledge about North Carolina law and her brusque, controllingmanner. She was acquitted in 1995 of assaulting a female lawyerwhose blouse gapped open too wide for Renfer's liking.

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

In October, the commission's first hearing in Renfer's casebecame an unchallenged recitation of the charges. Renfer did nothave an attorney, and she complained that the commission, whichcalled for her removal from the bench, should have granted her adelay to find one.

The Supreme Court agreed that the commission should have allowedher more time to find an attorney and told the commission to hold anew hearing.

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

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

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

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

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