Judge was a policymaking employee subject to patronage termination, 5th Circuit rules

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A family court judge in Texas, who refused to support a favored judicial candidate, was a policymaking and confidential employee who wasn’t eligible for First Amendment protection from firing, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at New Orleans ruled Monday against Judge Diane Haddock, who was one of seven associate judges in Tarrant County, Texas, appointed by the county’s elected district judges. Judge Edith Brown Clement, a nominee of former President George W. Bush, wrote the decision.

“Haddock argues that judges, categorically, cannot be policymakers because they merely apply the law to the facts of a case. Although we appreciate this aspirational view of the judiciary generally, both the structure of the judiciary in Texas and Haddock’s pleadings refute this argument,” Clement wrote.

Judges are policymakers because their political beliefs influence their decisions on important jurisprudential matters, Clement said. Judicial temperament, for example, is relevant to the job. And Haddock herself notes the importance of associate judges understanding and carrying out district judges’ preferences.

Haddock was also a confidential employee privy to confidential litigation materials and internal court communications, the appeals court said.

Haddock’s case stems from conflicts that arose after she considered a run in 2016 for a district judge seat against a fellow associate judge, Judge James Munford.

Munford’s wife repeated allegations that Haddock had mishandled a case in which a child died after the mother obtained custody. Haddock decided not to run, and her husband began campaigning against Munford.

Among the husband’s claims: Munford was a “RINO”—meaning a Republican in name only—and he violated the Second Amendment by signing protective orders requiring litigants to surrender their guns based on inadequate evidence.

Another district judge demanded that Haddock publicly support Munford and “get her husband under control.” Haddock refused. The judge who made the demand allegedly began a campaign to orchestrate Haddock’s firing while subjecting her to “badgering, threats, back-biting, undermining and maligning,” Haddock had alleged.

Haddock filed a lawsuit in 2018 claiming a hostile work environment. She amended the complaint when she was was fired fewer than 90 days later.

The 5th Circuit cited Haddock’s own pleadings in rejecting her claims.

“Haddock’s complaint shows that the policymaking functions of an associate judge were directly relevant during judicial elections,” the appeals court said. “Munford’s performance as an associate judge—including degree of party fealty (whether he was a ‘RINO’) and attitude toward political hot-button topics like gun rights—were key campaign issues. Haddock, by her own allegations, was fired at least in part (if not entirely) because of her husband’s speech on those specific topics.”

Hat tip to Law360, which covered the decision.

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