LAKE CHARLES — U.S. District Court Judge Patricia Minaldi said Friday that she took medical leave from the bench in late December to get her alcoholism under control.
“So far, I’m winning that battle, and I intend to win it for the rest of my life,” she said.
Minaldi, 58, has been diagnosed with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a brain disorder caused by alcohol abuse. She said it affected her behavior outside the courtroom “to a startling extent,” and she vowed to “go down fighting” the disorder, which she said has no cure.
“There is no treatment for it. You just have to not drink,” she said. “And that is my intent for the rest of my life.”
Glen Vamvoras, Minaldi’s attorney, said she will “fight her alcohol addiction zealously” and prevail.
“She is a very smart, caring woman who has elevated herself to one of the highest positions in our society,” Vamvoras said. “Most people have no idea the amount of stress and anguish that good judges deal with on a daily basis. And she loves this community.”
The stress of difficult cases in her long legal career caught up to her, she said, “and I didn’t handle it properly. But I intend to from this day out.”
Minaldi, who has served as a federal judge since 2003, acknowledged that some of her rulings on the bench might be challenged now but that those challenges would lack merit.
“I’m not going to downplay the alcohol problem. If there was ever an indication that I was unable to handle my duties because of alcohol — after-effects or current effects — proceedings did not go forward,” she said.
“There have been thousands and thousands of cases I have handled that it was never even an issue. So those cases are not in jeopardy. But I can tell you that anytime there was a question about it, those proceedings were halted.”
Court records show that Minaldi, who pleaded guilty to first-offense DWI in 2014, arrived at the 12 Keys Rehab Center in Florida on Jan. 4 after being ordered by U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Carl E. Stewart to complete at least 90 days of treatment.
She was discharged on Feb. 1 with the help, she said, of Kathleen Kay, a longtime friend who worked under her as federal magistrate judge in the Western District of Louisiana court.
“Unfortunately, I had an assistant who was not really taking care of me and basically dumped me at the facility in Florida,” Minaldi said. “And in order to get me back here to Lake Charles, (Kay) decided to take the action she did regarding the power of attorney.”
But as grateful as she is to Kay for removing her from that situation, Minaldi said Kay’s filing March 16 of interdiction proceedings against her was “overreaching and absolutely not necessary.”
Minaldi, in turn, revoked, on March 18, the general and medical powers of attorney she had granted Kay in 2007.
“I have not spoken to her for well over a month,” she said. “And I don’t think she has any idea about what condition I’m in, that I have my faculties. I’m ambulatory.”
Minaldi said she walks 2 1/2 miles a day, teaches an exercise class at the facility she lives in and can fully handle her personal affairs.
“I don’t want to say anything bad about Magistrate Judge Kay, but it has gone way too far,” she said.
The interdiction proceedings had been sealed from public view until an agreement between the American Press — which had a motion to unseal pending in state district court — and the attorneys involved led to an order signed Thursday for its partial opening.
The information revealed in the documents included Minaldi’s stint in rehab, her Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome diagnosis and an emergency temporary interdiction granted against her. Minaldi said that although the information released was private, she understood her role as a public figure.
“Am I happy about it? Not really. But (the public has) the right to know,” she said. “And we knew that it was going to be released eventually, so it would just consume time and energy to fight it.”
Minaldi said a hearing on the interdiction hasn’t been scheduled. But if it does proceed, she said she will fight it to the end.
Minaldi said she is fighting another issue — a case of identity theft that she said “spans back for over a year.” Minaldi said that after issues regarding her home, swimming pool and pets had become too much for her, someone she knew and trusted came to stay with her to help her.
“Unfortunately, he took care of himself rather than taking care of my issues,” she said. “And along the way, we suspect, with some evidence, that he was drugging me and keeping me incapacitated.”
Minaldi expressed optimism about her future, saying she is weighing her options and noting that no decision has been made on if, when or how she would leave the bench. She did acknowledge, however, that there may be “some better avenues” than staying there.
“I was very, very fortunate God put me in a position that I could handle cases that made an impact on the community,” she said. “It was a wonderful experience, and I will never forget that.”
Minaldi said she has continually worked to make the community a “safer place to live” and that she will “continue to do that in one form or another in the future.”
“First and foremost, I want the community to understand that I will take no action that could possibly harm this community or its citizens,” she said.
“I just hit a huge bump in the road. And I am going to do everything I can to smooth that bump out. And I would never put the community at risk because of issues I have.”
‘First and foremost, I want the community to understand that I will take no action that could possibly harm this community or its citizens.’ Judge Patricia Minaldi