Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Kozinski Dismisses Attorney’s Claim Bankrupcty Judge Has Dementia
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski yesterday dismissed an attorney’s claim that a bankruptcy judge in the circuit has dementia.
In a published order naming neither the complainant nor the subject, the chief judge explained that while attorneys are encouraged to report judicial misconduct or disability, he could find no evidence to support the allegation.
“Pursuant to the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act, any person who believes that a federal judge ‘is unable to discharge all the duties of office by reason of mental or physical disability,’ 28 U.S.C. § 351(a), may file a complaint stating the reasons for his belief,” Kozinski explained.
“...Such complaints are also taken seriously, particularly where (as in this case) the complainant specifies the particular behaviors that he believes are the result of mental disability..” he added. “This complainant was given an additional measure of deference because he reports familiarity with the symptoms of dementia, having tended to a family member who showed similar symptoms.”
The attorney complained that the bankruptcy judge had demonstrated “slow reaction time, moodiness, and memory problems,” which the lawyer interpreted as signs of dementia. The chief judge, who serves a gatekeeper function with respect to claims of misconduct or disability, said he took the complaint seriously enough to conduct a “limited inquiry” into the judge’s behavior.
The rules provide that where such inquiry justifies further investigation, the chief judge must appoint a committee of judges to probe deeper into the matter. Otherwise, the chief judge dismissed the complaint, as Kozinski did yesterday.
Before reaching his conclusion, Kozinski said, he inquired of judges who have observed the bankruptcy judge in personal and professional settings, as well as those who have reviewed the judge’s work on appeal. Those he interviewed about the judge, “report that they have observed no decline in his performance,” Kozinski said.
The complainant, he added, presented no transcripts or recordings from which an evaluation could be made, and a three-year study of appellate opinions revealed none in which the judge’s competency was questioned.
“Without more specific facts, complainant’s allegations are insufficient...I nevertheless appreciate complainant’s willingness to file a complaint and bring his observations to my attention,” the chief judge wrote. “And, of course, the matter is always subject to re-consideration if he or another member of the public should come forward with more concrete evidence of mental or physical disability.”
The case is In re Complaint of Judicial Misconduct, 14-90084.
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