Proceedings in an interdiction lawsuit against U.S. District Court Judge Patricia Minaldi have been partially opened following the March 29 filing of a motion by the (Lake Charles) American Press to unseal them.
And the record shows that Minaldi, who pleaded guilty in Feb. 2014 to first-degree DWI, has been diagnosed with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a brain disorder caused by severe alcohol abuse. Minaldi, who has served as a federal judge since 2003, was removed from more than two dozen cases after a trial she presided over in December ended abruptly.
She had also been removed from a string of cases earlier in the year. No reason was given at the time for the case reassignments but Western District of Louisiana clerk of court Tony Moore said that Minaldi had been off the bench since late December for “medical reasons.”
On March 16, an interdiction petition was filed in state district court seeking to have Minaldi declared mentally incapacitated and appoint a curator to manage all of her affairs. Local attorney Thomas Lorenzi filed the case on behalf of Kathleen Kay, a long-time friend of Minaldi’s, who worked under her as U.S. magistrate judge for the Western District of Louisiana.
The proceeding’s record had been sealed from public view until the American Press reached an agreement with attorneys Wednesday to have part of it unsealed. Judge Ron Ware signed off on the order to do so today. A hearing on the motion had been scheduled for April 18. “The law generally favors disclosure to the public of court proceedings and judicial records.
However, public disclosure is weighed and balanced against the individual’s right to personal privacy. In this instance, the attorneys for both sides applied this balancing test in the best interest of justice. The agreement is fair and equitable to all concerned,” said Glen Vamvoras, Minaldi’s attorney. Included among the documents is a patient discharge summary from 12 Keys Rehab Center in Florida. Minaldi arrived at the facility on Jan. 4 after being referred to the program by Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Carl E. Stewart and was discharged on Feb. 1.
According to the record, Stewart had mandated that Minaldi complete a minimum of 90 days of substance abuse treatment “initiated due to the severity of [her] alcoholism and legal consequences she had attained” and that Chief Circuit Mediator Vikram Chandhok be informed of Minaldi’s individualized treatment plan and updated on her progress. The center noted that Minaldi had “cognitive impairment requiring assisted living facility admissions” and that she was “unable to safely take care of her personal needs, financial matters or her property matters.”
They suggested a full interdiction be done on her behalf after diagnosing her with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. According to the National Institute of Health and the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a number of alcoholics with thiamine deficiency develop Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which is a combination of a short-lived and severe condition called Wernicke’s encephalopathy and a long-lasting and debilitating condition known as Korsakoff’s psychosis. Symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy include mental confusion, paralysis of the nerves that move the eyes and difficulty with muscle coordination.
Korsakoff’s psychosis is chronic and characterized by persistent learning, concentration and memory problems. If damage to the brain is severe, care shifts from treatment to providing support to the patient. The NIH states that custodial care may be necessary for the 25 percent of patients who have permanent brain damage and significant loss of cognitive skills. The severity of the disorder for Minaldi was not part of the unsealed record.
Court documents also show that an emergency temporary interdiction against Minaldi was granted at the time of the lawsuit’s filing. Kay, who Minaldi granted general and medical powers of attorney in March 2007, was named at the time as Minaldi’s curator. Vamvoras said that the temporary indiction was “off the board” after timelines for a quick hearing on the issue were not met.
Minaldi divested Kay of the powers of attorney in a document recorded with the Calcasieu Clerk of Court’s office on March 20. Vamvoras said that Minaldi currently retains “complete control over her activities — business and personal” and that it is up to Kay as to whether or not the interdiction proceedings will continue. Moore said that as of March 30, Minaldi had 237 civil and 17 criminal cases pending and that they were “being handled pursuant to usual case management orders and reassignments made on an as-needed basis under the supervision of [Chief Judge Dee Drell].”
Minaldi, as a federal judge appointed for life, can leave the bench by resignation, retirement or through impeachment by the U.S. Congress. The Federal Judicial Center lists 15 federal judges who were impeached between 1803 and 2010. Eight were convicted and removed; four were acquitted; and three resigned. Some of the reasons listed for conviction include mental instability and intoxication on the bench, refusing to hold court and waging war against the U.S. government, improper business relationship with persons involved in lawsuits, income tax evasion and perjury.
G. Thomas Porteous Jr., a former federal judge in Louisiana’s Eastern District, was the only Louisiana judge to be impeached and the last to be removed. He was convicted in 2010 of accepting bribes and making false statements under penalty of perjury.