Legal Ethics

3rd Circuit Panel to Hear Complaint Against 9th Circuit Chief Judge

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With noteworthy speed, the chair of the judicial council of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has appointed a special committee to look into a judicial misconduct complaint against Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A request to initiate proceedings was made by Kozinski himself last week, who also requested that the matter be heard by a judicial council outside the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit. The 9th Circuit then issued an order (PDF) today construing Kozinski’s June 12, 2008 request as an identification by him of a judicial conduct complaint against himself.

Later today, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. of the U.S. Supreme Court, in a letter (PDF), assigned the complaint to the 3rd Circuit’s judicial council.

And now, in a statement on the U.S. Courts website for the federal judiciary, the chairman of the 3rd Circuit’s judicial council names the members of the special committee who will investigate In Re Complaint of Judicial Misconduct, No. 08-90035.

They are: 3rd Circuit Chief Judge Scirica, who chairs the circuit’s judicial council; Judge Marjorie Rendell and Judge Walter Stapleton, both of the Philadelphia-based 3rd Circuit; Chief District Judge Harvey Bartle III of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania; and Chief District Judge Garrett Brown Jr. of the District of New Jersey.

Arthur Hellman, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, tells that he initially thought Justice Roberts might have transfered the investigation of Kozinski to the 10th Circuit’s judicial council because of geographic proximity.

By instead selecting the 3rd Circuit’s judicial council for the transfer, Hellman says, “My guess is he didn’t pick the 3rd Circuit so much as he picked Chief Justice Scirica”—who is also, he notes, the new chairman of the executive committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the administrative policymaking body of the federal judiciary.

“He wanted somebody he had absolute confidence in,” says Hellman of Roberts. “He selected a person rather than the circuit, in my view.”

As discussed in earlier posts, Kozinski’s conduct has suddenly become controversial after the Los Angeles Times reported that he had posted sexually explicit materials on a personal website that could be accessed by the public via the Internet. However, his son subsequently said he is primarily responsible for the private family website, and Kozinski’s wife says in a letter posted today that too much has been made of the relatively small number of items of “raunchy humor” among more standard-issue fare.

At this point, Hellman notes, it remains to be seen how narrowly, or broadly, the special committee will interpret its investigative mandate.

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