Federal Judge Takes Leave; Cases To Be Reassigned

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — U.S. District Judge Helen "Ginger" Berrigan is taking a leave from the bench.

         Chief U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt issued an order Tuesday to randomly reassign scores of civil and criminal cases on her docket to other sections of the Eastern District of Louisiana court.

         The New Orleans Advocate reports the order describes the redistribution of Berrigan's caseload as "temporary, but indefinite." A friend of the family told the newspaper that the 67-year-old Berrigan is taking time off to attend to an illness in her family.

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         An assistant in Berrigan's office declined to comment on the judge's departure.

         Among the cases to be reassigned are the prosecution of former New Orleans bail bondsman and frequent political candidate Rufus Johnson; his son, attorney James Johnson; and two others in an alleged multi-year scheme to rig bail bonds for Orleans Parish inmates and provide kickbacks to court clerks. That trial had been scheduled to start Jan. 25, but whether that date will remain under the newly assigned jurist, District Judge Ivan Lemelle, is uncertain.

         Berrigan was nominated to the lifetime judgeship by President Bill Clinton and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 1994. She is considered among the most liberal of the 15 district judges on the federal bench in New Orleans.

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