Federal appeals judge should be suspended for failing to cooperate in mental fitness probe, report says

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gavel on hook

Federal Circuit Judge Pauline Newman has argued that a committee process to investigate her competence violated her due process rights. Photo illustration by Sara Wadford/ABA Journal/Shutterstock.

A special committee appointed to investigate the competence of a 96-year-old federal appeals judge is recommending that she be suspended from hearing all cases for a year for failing to cooperate in the probe.

Judge Pauline Newman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit did not comply with the committee’s orders for medical examinations, medical records and an interview, according to an unsealed July 31 report and recommendation by the special committee.

The one-year suspension could be renewed if Newman refuses to cooperate, the special committee said in its recommendation to the Federal Circuit Judicial Council.

The special committee said disability concerns arise partly from Newman’s inability to complete her work in a timely fashion, despite having a reduced workload.

Concerns are also justified based on staff members’ “deeply troubling interactions with Judge Newman,” the report said. Those interactions “sadly suggest significant mental deterioration, including memory loss, confusion, lack of comprehension, paranoia, hostility and severe agitation.”

The staff members said Newman has been unable to remember simple tasks, such as bringing briefs and bench memos to court, logging on to the computer network and locating files. When offered help, Newman has appeared paranoid and insisted that her devices are hacked and bugged, staff members reported. Staff members have had to repeatedly answer the same questions because Newman has not remembered or understood the answers, according to the report.

Judge Pauline Newman Wikimedia Commons Judge Pauline Newman, 96, did not comply with a committee’s orders for medical examinations, medical records and an interview, according to an unsealed July 31 report. Photo by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, PD US Courts, via Wikimedia Commons.

Also troubling is that Newman did not intervene when one of her clerks started calling Newman’s judicial assistant in the middle of the night to demand personal wake-up calls and other personal services, the report said. The clerk refused to change her practices when the judicial assistant raised the issue in an employment resolution process.

That same clerk has “apparently has been assigned personal tasks, such as grocery shopping and driving Judge Newman to her medical appointments,” the report said.

When the clerk was asked about the work that she did for Newman, she invoked the Fifth Amendment.

The judicial assistant who received the late-night calls was given permission to work outside Newman’s chambers. Newman’s reaction was to threaten to have the assistant forcibly removed from the building and arrested, the report said. The judicial assistant took on a new assignment, taking his computer with him as is the standard practice. Newman was convinced the computer had been stolen, the report said.

Newman had argued that the committee process violated her due process rights because the court’s chief judge initiated the review process and served as a decision-maker. She wanted the investigation transferred to another circuit.

But Newman is taking issue with processes built into governing rules, the special committee said. And the special committee and the judicial council said Newman could renew her transfer request after she complied with the medical examination and records request.

Newman also claimed that a report from her neurologist showed that there is no need for additional medical examinations.

But the test found that the judge was unable to remember four out of five words several minutes after they were read to her and repeated several times, the special committee said.

“Judge Newman’s conduct thwarting the committee’s investigation cannot go unpunished and cannot be met with a minor sanction that a life-tenured judge might ignore,” the special committee said. “Instead, the committee believes the only sanction that would appropriately impress upon Judge Newman the seriousness of this matter is the temporary suspension of all case assignments for a fixed time period.”

Hat tip to Law360, which covered the report.

See also:

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

ABAJournal.com: “Competency concerns lead to investigation of 95-year-old appeals judge”

ABAJournal.com: “Federal circuit judge, 95, flunked security training, displayed hacking paranoia, exam order alleges”

ABAJournal.com: “Lawyer for federal appeals judge barred from new cases finds orders ‘incredible’ and ‘stunning’ ”

ABAJournal.com: “Weekly Briefs: 96-year-old judge must mediate suit to keep job; DOJ reverses stance on Trump shield”

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