Salem Radio Network News Saturday, February 24, 2024

U.S.

US appeals judge, 96, suspended in rare clash over fitness

By Blake Brittain and Nate Raymond

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on Wednesday suspended Judge Pauline Newman from hearing new cases amid a deepening clash over the 96-year-old jurist’s mental competence to serve on the bench.

A council of judges on the Washington, D.C., court unanimously said Newman had failed to cooperate with an investigation into her fitness and barred her from hearing new cases for at least one year or until she sits for court-ordered medical examinations.

“We are acutely aware that this is not a fitting capstone to Judge Newman’s exemplary and storied career,” the council said, but added it had no choice when “a judge of this Court is no longer capable of performing the duties of her judicial office.”

Such a public and contentious internal dispute over competency is highly unusual in the federal judiciary. Newman has defended her fitness, citing the opinions of two doctors, and filed a lawsuit in a separate Washington court seeking to move or halt the investigation.

Newman’s attorney Greg Dolin said the council was “ignoring data or information or opinions that are inconsistent with its predetermined goals and outcomes,” and that the judge would challenge the order and continue to press her claims in court.

A representative for the Federal Circuit declined to comment.

Newman, a highly-respected figure in patent law and a prominent dissenter, was appointed to the patent-focused Federal Circuit by President Ronald Reagan in 1984 and is the oldest active U.S. federal judge.

Her case raises sensitive questions about America’s aging federal judiciary, whose members are appointed to the bench for life and can be impeached but not forced to retire.

The average age of federal judges recently reached a record high of 69, according to a 2020 study in the Ohio State Law Journal by Francis Shen of Harvard Medical School.

The Federal Circuit’s chief judge, Kimberly Moore, said in orders made public in April that Newman showed signs of cognitive and physical impairment and accused her of refusing to cooperate with inquiries into her mental health.

Court employees also described “memory loss, confusion, paranoia and angry rants” by Newman, according to documents released in August.

Newman’s attorneys have long argued that Newman’s own court should not preside over the competency probe. They said in a filing made public on Wednesday that the committee investigating her fitness was “interested in one thing and one thing only – keeping Judge Newman off the bench via the exercise of raw power.”

U.S. Circuit Judge Edith Jones, a friend of Newman’s on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, called the Federal Circuit tribunal “inherently biased” and said she hoped the “responsible parties in the Judicial Conference,” the judiciary’s national policymaking body, would intervene.

(Reporting by Blake Brittain in Washington; Editing by David Bario and Daniel Wallis)

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