3rd Circuit judicial council rejects bias allegations against two federal appeals judges

  • Print.

U.S. Courthouse in Philadelphia

The U.S. Courthouse in Philadelphia where the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals meets. Photo by Bumble Dee / Shutterstock.com.

Two federal appeals judges did not act with racial animus when they prepared a report about a Black senior staff member’s management and leadership, according to the Judicial Council of the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The council tossed the manager’s judicial misconduct complaint and repudiated “in the strongest terms” his secret recording of circuit judges in a bid to back up his claims. Law360 has coverage of the council’s July 27 opinion.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. had assigned the manager’s complaint about two circuit judges to the 3rd Circuit council for review. The manager was from a different circuit. Neither the manager nor the judges were named in the judicial council’s opinion.

The manager, described as a “unit executive,” says he retired early to “protect himself,” costing him $330,000 in compensation for service time through his 62d birthday.

The judicial council appointed a special committee of judges to investigate and hired a law firm to assist. As evidence, the complaining unit executive submitted a USB memory stick with four recordings of in-person conversations he had with various circuit judges.

The judges didn’t know they had been recorded until investigators told them so.

The review of the complaining employee’s management began after one of the judges, referred to as “Subject Judge I,” approached the chief judge with concerns about the treatment of staff members under the complaining employee’s supervision.

The chief judge then spoke with unit executives who generally described the manager as “remote, private, unfriendly and controlling,” without alleging mistreatment, the judicial council said. Employees interviewed said the consensus was that the manager was unpopular and that morale issues were pervasive.

Subject Judge I, who had reason to be concerned about employee issues, repeatedly shared additional concerns with the chief judge, the judicial council said. Subject Judge II became involved at the request of the chief judge. At that point, employees were interviewed about the manager and the two judges issued a report to the chief judge.

“The subject judges’ report quoted employees describing the workplace conditions in terms such as ‘frustrating’ and ‘disturbing,’ and as viewing complainant as ‘controlling,’ ‘demeaning,’ and engaging in retaliation and exclusion,” the judicial council said.

“The subject judges’ report also described what the employees perceived as an absence of any structure for reporting their workplace-related concerns.”

The report said the manager’s conduct would be grounds for firing in the private sector, but said any decision on termination would be left to the chief judge.

The judicial council said its “thorough investigation revealed no evidence of racial discrimination or bias or, more generally, any improper motive on the part of the subject judges.”

The judicial council also concluded that the manager’s secret recording of meetings with judges was a violation of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees.

“Complainant had access to highly confidential information and the judges of the court trusted him to make decisions on a wide range of complex and sensitive matters,” the judicial council said. “Complainant’s decision to make surreptitious recordings of the judges he worked for was an egregious betrayal of that trust.”

Law360 spoke with Fix the Court executive director Gabe Roth, who said the council should have released the names of the judges who were accused of racial bias. “That structure of opacity breeds mistrust in the court system—especially from those who’ve historically had greater barriers to justice to begin with,” Roth said.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.