Video: Pair of Baton Rouge-area judges make cases against suspensions to state Supreme Court _lowres

Judge John Robin Free

Embattled state District Judge J. Robin Free resigned Friday, just three weeks before he was set to return to the bench after a yearlong suspension.

The state's Judiciary Commission had mounted a new investigation into recent actions by Free involving the alleged harassment of speed-enforcement officers with the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office, sources told The Advocate. He reportedly threatened to investigate them upon his return to the bench in July.

Robert Gunn, spokesman for the Louisiana Supreme Court, said he could not confirm or deny whether Free was under investigation, citing state law that deems Judiciary Commission proceedings confidential.

"The Supreme Court does not communicate with judges regarding Judiciary Commission matters," he said in an email.

In a brief telephone interview on Friday, Free called it "an honor and a pleasure" to serve on the bench in the 18th Judicial District Court.

"And I look forward to retired life," he said, then hanging up without answering any further questions.

Free submitted his resignation letter to the Louisiana Secretary of State's Office late Friday afternoon.

"It hasn't been processed yet," Meg Casper, spokesman for the state's Secretary of State, said around 4:20 p.m. Friday. "A special election will have to be called at some point."

Free has served as a judge in the 18th JDC, which encompasses West Baton Rouge, Iberville and Pointe Coupee parishes, since 1996.

But for the past couple of years, his tenure on the bench was marked by controversy.

Free is currently on suspension without pay after the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled he failed to maintain the integrity of his position and exhibited behavior that the majority of the Supreme Court’s seven justices described as injudicious, lacking judicial temperament and giving an appearance of impropriety.

He was suspended in June 2016 for comments in front of a victim's family showing bias toward prosecutors, abusing his contempt authority in two separate cases, making inappropriate comments toward women during domestic abuse proceedings and using slang when speaking to defendants in several criminal cases.

During his suspension from the bench, Free secured a $75,000 a year job with Iberville Parish government as supervisor of the parish's Department of General Services.

Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso has said hired Free to update Iberville's personnel manual and assist in drafting the parish's 2017 fiscal year budget.

Prior to his current suspension, Free was suspended without pay for 30 days in December 2014 for accepting an all-expense-paid trip from a Texas attorney whose client was awarded $1.2 million in a personal injury lawsuit tried in the judge’s court.

Col. Richie Johnson, spokesman for the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office, recently claimed that while on his current suspension Free had "bizarre" confrontations over a three-week period with five officers from the Local Agency Compensated Enforcement program run by the District Attorney's Office of the 18th JDC.

The incidents, which occurred as deputies were conducting speed enforcement along U.S. 190, were at the center of the Judiciary Commission's most recent investigation, sources told The Advocate.

The deputies said Free videotaped them while as they performed traffic stops and tried to warn motorists that deputies were up ahead issuing speeding tickets by parking along the highway and flashing his vehicle's lights. He also questioned them about the speeding enforcement program, calling it illegal and saying he intended to shut it down when he returned to the bench.

Johnson previously said Free was lashing out after one of his relatives was issued a speeding ticket.

Free denied having any knowledge of the encounters.

Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.