Federal appeals judge, 96, fails to overturn suspension order for refusing to cooperate in fitness probe
Judge Pauline Newman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in May 2023. After refusing to cooperate with medical testing to determine her mental fitness for the bench, Newman, now 96, has failed to persuade a reviewing body that she is entitled to resume deciding new cases. (Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
A 96-year-old federal appeals judge who refused to cooperate with medical testing to determine her mental fitness for the bench has failed to persuade a reviewing body that she is entitled to resume deciding new cases.
The U.S. Judicial Conference’s Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability ruled Wednesday against Judge Pauline Newman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
Newman was suspended from hearing new cases for a year in September 2023. The judicial council of the Federal Circuit imposed the suspension because Newman refused to submit to medical evaluations, provide medical records and sit for an interview. Newman had cited the opinions of her doctors, who say she is fit for the job.
The Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability affirmed the judicial council’s order.
The committee rejected Newman’s argument that the case should have been moved to another circuit, finding that the transfer decision is discretionary. It rejected Newman’s argument that rule violations by the council justified her failure to cooperate. And it rejected her contention that she was denied due process.
“Here, Judge Newman was afforded all the process she was due under the rules,” the committee said.
The committee also cited “voluminous evidence” justifying the order for medical testing. Affidavits and Newman’s emails illustrate interactions “that suggest memory loss, confusion, lack of comprehension, paranoia, anger, hostility, severe agitation and an inability to perform tasks that Judge Newman previously could perform with ease,” the committee said.
The committee also concluded that the one-year suspension of new case assignments, subject to renewal, was appropriate.
“Although the sanction is subject to renewal, unlike other suspensions, Judge Newman has the power to trigger reconsideration or modification if she decides to cooperate,” the Feb. 7 opinion said.
Bloomberg Law included a comment from Newman’s lawyer, Greg Dolin of the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a nonprofit civil rights organization.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed, but we intend to continue to press our claims” in a separate federal lawsuit pending in Washington, D.C., Dolin said.
The suit challenges the constitutionality of the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act, which governs the proceedings against Newman.
Dolin said Newman is prepared to take her case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.