Federal Judge Helen ‘Ginger’ Berrigan takes leave; cases to be reassigned _lowres

Judge Helen Ginger Berrigan

U.S. District Judge Helen “Ginger” Berrigan is taking a leave from the bench, and orders came down Tuesday for the court to reassign all the civil and criminal cases on her docket.

A friend of the family said Berrigan, 67, is taking time off to attend to an illness in her family.

Chief U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt issued a general order Tuesday to randomly reallot scores of cases on Berrigan’s docket to other sections of the Eastern District of Louisiana court.

The order describes the redistribution of Berrigan’s caseload as “temporary, but indefinite.”

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

Among the cases to be reassigned from Berrigan’s docket is 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.

For unexplained reasons, Berrigan last month disqualified herself from the death penalty case against former New Orleans police Officer Len Davis, who was sentenced to death for arranging a woman’s 1994 murder. In recusing herself, Berrigan cited a law that requires judges to disqualify themselves if their impartiality “might reasonably be questioned,” but she gave no details.

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.