In a victory for an embattled Santa Clara County prosecutor accused of professional misconduct, a state bar court judge on Friday recommended he be allowed to continue practicing law.

But State Bar Court Judge Patrice McElroy found Troy Benson should face public reproval for one misstep -- failing to disclose evidence to the defendant in a child sex-abuse case.

McElroy's ruling was a defeat for the state agency that licenses California lawyers, which urged her to strip Benson on his right to practice law for two years, and a relief for the career prosecutor and his many supporters.

"I didn't do anything on purpose,'' Benson said in a brief phone interview after the opinion was released. "There was no intention to hide any evidence. Once I learned of the tape, I turned it over.''

Benson was accused of concealing evidence and four other counts of professional misconduct. The allegations, which he denied, stem from his prosecution of Augustin Uribe six years ago on charges he sexually molested a female relative, starting when she was 5.

Benson was accused of concealing a videotaped medical exam of the child in 2006 from defense attorney Al Lopez until after the trial and then lying about it under oath. Benson claims he found the tape first, but Lopez claims he did.

In a 27-page opinion, McElroy said she could not resolve who was telling the truth about how the videotape surfaced -- and therefore could not find Benson culpable for alleged acts of moral turpitude or misleading a judge.

"The court finds the testimony of all the witnesses to be very credible,'' McElroy said." There lies the conundrum.''

Rather than wrestle with "the philosophical issue of objective truth versus subjective truth'' in the absence of clear and convincing evidence, she said she gave "great weight'' to Benson's credibility. Case law requires that reasonable doubts in proving a charge of professional misconduct must be resolved in the accused attorney's favor, she noted.

However, she found Benson was remiss in not realizing there was a videotape until after the trial, especially since he was aware of the existence of another tape in a similar case. Benson has said it did not occur to him to ask if there was also a videotape in the Uribe case.

At the time, the few prosecutors in the DA's office who were aware of the videotaping had the impression they were continually taped over and not retained, officials have said. It wasn't until a 2008 appellate decision in the Uribe case that they began routinely handing them over to the accused and that some 3,000 other tapes turned up.

McElroy's ruling buoyed Benson's supporters.

"Vindicated -- that's how I feel,'' said Benson's lawyer, Jonathan Arons. "This is exactly appropriate; this is the way it should have gone.''

State Bar prosecutors have 30 days to appeal McElroy's opinion to a review panel of State Bar judges. But experts say it is unlikely they will because Benson's account was supported by Judge Paul R. Bernal, who presided over the Uribe trial. Bernal testified he didn't know for sure who discovered the videotape first, but he "got the impression'' it was Benson. If no one appeals, the decision stands.

Not everyone was pleased by McElroy's recommendation. Lopez declined to comment. He had argued Benson concocted the story about discovering the tape because he was concerned the State Bar was looking into whether he committed an ethical violation by withholding it.

"I'm very disappointed,'' said David D. Martin, the appellate lawyer in the underlying case. "Somebody had to be telling the truth and somebody lied. You can't just say everyone was telling the truth. He was a well-liked guy; maybe that makes a difference.''

Benson's hearing took place last fall after a Santa Clara County judge in 2010 and an appellate court last year both found Benson engaged in "substantial misconduct." But the state Attorney General's Office concluded there wasn't enough evidence to find he committed perjury and that it was just as likely the defense attorney in the case was not telling the truth.

District Attorney Jeff Rosen had been waiting until McElroy's decision to decide whether to internally discipline Benson. Now, it is unlikely he will take serious action other than perhaps a letter in his file or verbal warning, given the judge's decision. Rosen refused to comment on the personnel matter, but issued a brief written statement.

"I am evaluating the State Bar's decision. I am pleased that the process worked and has concluded. Mr. Benson, myself and all the fine employees of the District Attorney's Office will now move forward, continue to seek justice and do the people's work."

McElroy also presided over former Santa Clara County prosecutor Field's disciplinary hearing. In that case, McElroy took the extraordinary step of recommending suspending Field an extra year more than prosecutors had sought, and the California Supreme Court upheld her decision.

About 25 or so character witnesses testified or submitted declarations in support of Benson, including retired Judge Jerome Brock, Judge Griffin Bonini, alternate deputy public defender Jessica Delgado, Gilroy police detective Michael Bolton and a host of defense attorneys, including James E. Leininger. They described Benson as one of the most honest, cooperative, forthcoming, well-prepared and reasonable prosecutors they ever dealt with.

Many said they believe the likable 42-year-old was being unfairly persecuted for what at worst was a faulty memory or an honest misunderstanding brought on by a heavy caseload.

Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482. Follow her at Twitter.com/tkaplanreport.