Competency concerns lead to investigation of 95-year-old appeals judge

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Photo illustration by Sara Wadford/ABA Journal/Shutterstock.

A 95-year-old judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit is being investigated by the court’s judicial council after concerns were raised about her competency.

The judge, Judge Pauline Newman, has refused to accept service of orders issued in the case and has instructed the mailroom at her residence to refuse to accept the orders, according to an April 13 order that determined that the investigation will include a failure-to-cooperate allegation.

The judicial council disclosed the investigation Friday after public reports revealed the probe, which is being conducted under the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act. Chief Judge Kimberly A. Moore began the review process after reviewing concerns and failing to resolve the matter informally with Newman, according to a March 24 order.

Moore said she heard concerns that Newman “may suffer from impairment of cognitive abilities (i.e., attention, focus, confusion and memory) that render Judge Newman unable to function effectively in discharging case-related and administrative duties.”

According to Moore’s order, judges and staff members reported “extensive delays in the processing and resolution of cases” by Newman.

From June 2022 to the present, for example, Newman participated in only 60 cases, while the average active judge participated in 116, Moore’s order said.

From October 2021 to the present, Newman wrote only eight majority opinions, while the average active judge on the court wrote 51.

During the same time period, the average time between assignment of a case to an authoring judge and issuance of the opinion was 60 days. Newman’s average was 199 days.

In addition, Moore wrote, she received reports that Newman “routinely makes statements in open court and during deliberative proceedings that demonstrate a clear lack of awareness over the issues in the cases.”

Newman has also been accused of permitting one of her law clerks “to exhibit unprofessional and inappropriate behavior” and of disclosing “sensitive medical information” about someone to her staff.

Publications reporting on the investigation include Reuters, Bloomberg Law and Law360.

Reuters described Newman as “a leading intellectual property law jurist and a prominent dissenter on the patent-focused Federal Circuit.” She was appointed by former President Ronald Reagan.

Former clerks who spoke with Law360 said Newman has always been slow in writing opinions. And lawyers who spoke with Law360 said Newman “continues to write sharp dissents and asks pointed questions in oral argument.”

Hat tip to How Appealing.

See also:

ABA Journal: “How can aging judges know when it’s time to hang up the robe?”

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