Thursday, May 6, 2004
Federal Judge Not Subject to Discipline on Charge of Mishandling Personnel Matter, Panel RulesBy a MetNews Staff Writer
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The federal judicial discipline statute does not apply to a judge’s alleged mishandling of a purely administrative matter such as a personnel grievance, the Ninth Circuit Judicial Council ruled yesterday.
The council, on a 7-0 vote, upheld Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Mary M. Schroeder’s dismissal of a complaint against two district judges by an unnamed complainant. While the district judges were unnamed, the council noted that Chief Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of the Northern District of California, a member of the council, was recused in the matter, suggesting that she may have been one of the subjects of the complaint.
The complainant, the council explained in its decision, is a former provisional employee of a district court’s probation office who was terminated by her superiors. She unsuccessfully appealed her termination, first to the chief judge of the district, and then to a court committee.
She then filed a misconduct complaint against the chief judge and the review committee chair, alleging they had abused their authority, denied her due process, and had a conflict of interest, the council explained.
Pursuant to the Judicial Councils Reform and Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980 and the Ninth Circuit Judicial Council rules, the complaint was referred to the chief judge for review. Schroeder concluded that the complaint neither alleged judicial misconduct nor offered evidence to support a finding of misconduct.
The statute provides for discipline of a judge who has committed misconduct, including one who “has engaged in conduct prejudicial to the effective and expeditious administration of the business of the courts.” Had the chief judge found that there was evidence to support such a complaint, she would have been required to refer it to a panel of judges for investigation.
In its order denying review of the dismissal, the council rejected the argument that the “effective and expeditious administration” language may be construed to include the handling of personnel discipline. “Despite the imprecision of the language....it is clear that it is intended to deal with misconduct relating to the judicial office or judicial conduct.”
The council analogized to cases determining whether conduct is judicial or non-judicial for purposes of judicial immunity. “Similar to the judicial immunity context, we conclude that Complainant cannot pursue her personnel matter through the judicial misconduct procedure because routine personnel decisions involving court employees are the kind of administrative function that does not directly implicate the ‘effective and expeditious administration of the business of the courts,’” the panel wrote.
The decision was signed by Circuit Judges Alex Kozinski, A. Wallace Tashima, and William A. Fletcher and District Judges John C. Coughenour of the Western District of Washington, David A. Ezra of the District of Hawaii, and Jack D. Shanstrom of the District of Montana.
Judge Andrew J. Kleinfeld concurred in the result, saying he favored upholding Schroeder’s decision but would not have decided the issue as a general matter. Two council members besides Patel, Circuit Judge Arthur Alarcon and District Judge David Levi of the Eastern District of California, did not participate.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company