Federal judge issues 'order on ineptitude' in prosecutor benchslap

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Updated: A federal judge in Houston has issued an “order on ineptitude” that takes “pretentious lawyers” from the U.S. Justice Department to task for experiencing difficulties when ordering a transcript.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes issued the unusual order (PDF) in the prosecution of Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan, who is accused of trying to support ISIS, report the Houston Chronicle and Click2Houston.

“If the pretentious lawyers from ‘main’ justice knew what they were doing—or had the humility to ask for help from the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Texas,” Hughes wrote, “it would not have taken three days, seven telephone calls, three voicemail messages and one snippy electronic message for them to indirectly ask the court for assistance in ordering a transcript.”

Hughes tells the ABA Journal he can’t discuss the order because the case is pending. “If the order is not self-explanatory, I failed,” he added.

The U.S. Justice Department had sought the transcript of an episode in which the judge berated a Justice Department lawyer and then “excused” him from the courtroom, the Washington Post reports. Hughes unsealed the transcript at the Washington Post’s request.

The Post describes the courtroom incident as “a Texas-size bollocking over proper attire, wasting taxpayer money and spying for the bureaucrats in Washington.”

The lawyer, Kashyap Patel, had arrived in court after flying to Houston from Tajikstan. “What is your role in this?” Hughes asked when Patel entered the courtroom. Patel responded that he was a member of the trial team.

“You’re not a member of the trial team,” Hughes said. “It’s been going on for a month or so and you haven’t been here, have you?”

Hughes wasn’t finished. “And where is your tie? Where is your suit?” he asked. Patel explained that he just flew in from overseas and he didn’t wear a suit on the plane.

Hughes then demanded that Patel get his passport, apparently for verification of his trip. “If you want to be a lawyer, dress like a lawyer,” Hughes said.

The judge then noted there were plenty of prosecutors in the nearby U.S. Attorney’s office and asked Patel how he would contribute to the case. “What is the utility to me and to the people of America to have you fly down here at their expense, eat at their expense and stay at their expense when there are plenty of capable people over there, in this room plus over there?” Hughes said. “You’re just one more nonessential employee from Washington. … You don’t add a bit of value, do you?”

At that point, Hughes told Patel, “You may be excused.”

The Houston Chronicle spoke with South Texas law professor Geoffrey Corn for his take on the ineptitude order. “It is just a slap in the face, is what it is,” Corn said. “When you are a judge, you get the prerogative of saying what you feel and putting it in a Ruling of Ineptitude,” he continued. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”

A visit to the government website for Hughes produces audio for “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Hughes tells the ABA Journal it’s his favorite song, and it’s been on his website for about 15 years. He also says the “hold” music for courthouse callers is “America the Beautiful,” a song he suggested to replace bad music from the 1970s.

Updated at 10:20 a.m. with comments from Hughes. Updated on Feb. 11 with additional information from the Washington Post.

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