Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Daily Report investigates how 11th Circuit handles complaints against judges

Alyson Palmer has this great article about her research into the complaints about judges filed with the 11th Circuit.  The very public suspension of Judge Fuller because of his arrest for domestic violence led her to investigate.  Some of her findings:
None of the orders found in the court's public files going back to 2006 refer to any discipline meted out to the judges. Generally the names of the judges whose conduct was being challenged, as well as those who were complaining, are redacted. Most were dismissed by the circuit's chief judge or someone acting in the chief's stead on the basis that the complaint amounted to an attack on the merits of a judge's decision or was not supported by enough evidence.Based on a complaint filed in 2009, a special committee was appointed to investigate an allegation that an unnamed district court judge had accepted a cash bribe for the promised release of a federal prisoner. According to an order signed by then-Chief Judge Joel Dubina dismissing the complaint, the investigation found no credible evidence to support the charges.In handling a similar allegation of bribery brought against an unnamed magistrate judge a few years later, Dubina simply rejected the complaint on his own as "facially incredible and lacking in indicia of reliability."Complaints from litigants often include allegations of racism. Those are usually brushed aside, but in 2007, then-Chief Judge J.L. Edmondson asked an unnamed magistrate judge to respond to such a complaint. According to Edmondson's order, the magistrate judge said in reference to a courtroom clock that was not working, "The Koreans can put a missile in the air, but the clock doesn't work in the courtroom." Identifying the complaining litigant as black and Asian, Edmondson said, "Judges must be guarded in their remarks, especially when touching on nationality and so on," but he concluded the remark was not derogatory about Asians and dismissed the complaint.A chief judge can conclude a misconduct case if he believes the judge in question has voluntarily remedied the problem raised by the complaint. Dubina in this way resolved a 2010 complaint about a judge's failure to include an expense-paid trip on a required financial disclosure form.The Eleventh Circuit also occasionally receives complaints from lawyers who say a judge is treating them unfairly. Dubina referred to a special committee for investigation a 2010 complaint by an attorney that alleged an unnamed bankruptcy court judge had engaged in an improper ex parte conversation and also told the attorney that if he did not change his phone system—which the judge said made it difficult to reach anyone in the office—the judge would "make things bumpy" for him.An order signed by Dubina later said the special committee, after an investigation that included witness interviews and document subpoenas, determined there was insufficient evidence to support the allegations.???Last year, the circuit received a complaint from an attorney about an unnamed district judge who allegedly had criticized the lawyer on more than one occasion. The attorney said the judge had acted erratically, and the lawyer was concerned that the judge suffered from a mental or physical health problem. Carnes' order dismissing the matter said he had interviewed 16 people, including judges, court staff and lawyers who regularly appear before the judge, and all stated the judge was not suffering from any kind of disability.In 2009, an attorney general of an unnamed state—presumably from Georgia, Florida or Alabama, the states in the circuit—filed a complaint regarding a senior district judge, saying the judge's use of "disrespectful and contemptuous language" suggested a bias against the AG, as well as a lack of respect for his state. Then-Eleventh Circuit Judge Stanley Birch dismissed the complaint in a one-page order saying that even if the judge acted as alleged, his conduct would not indicate a disability or be "prejudicial to the effective and expeditious administration of the business of the courts."

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