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Don’t expect much from the review of Judge Edith Jones

History says that nothing much will happen.

Judge Edith Jones

Federal judicial disciplinary action is extremely rare in the United States, where district and circuit judges enjoy lifetime appointments and more than 95 percent of complaints are dismissed.

However, some jurists have been disciplined and some publicly apologized after being accused of misconduct related to complaints of alleged racial, gender or ethnic biases.

Mocking the dialect of a black defendant during a hearing by writing “Ah is Important” on a note, and other offensive quips earned U.S. District Judge Alan McDonald a 2000 reprimand for “offensive banter.”

McDonald, now deceased, had passed the notes to a court employee and intended them to be private. They became public after being dug out of the trash and passed to a Spokane newspaper reporter.

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Repeatedly, judicial slips of the lip – and crude jokes – have avoided public sanction, especially when a jurist accused of misconduct offers an apology.

Last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals took no action against Montana U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull, who apologized after forwarding a racist email “joke” about President Barack Obama that included a reference to bestiality, though the Montana Human Rights Network filed a formal complaint asking for Cebull’s resignation.

The Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980 gave federal judges the power to secretly vet and, when necessary, to investigate misconduct complaints against their peers. Hundreds are filed each year. However, only Congress can impeach or remove a district or circuit judge for so-called “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

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Eugene Volokh, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, reviewed affidavits and the complaint and said that even if Jones’ remarks offended some listeners, they did not appear to rise to the level of judicial misconduct.

“The judge has firm views but … it is normal for judges to express their views on contested issues especially before legal audiences and in law schools,” he said.

In the last three decades, only four former chief circuit court judges, including Jones, have faced a public misconduct complaint. Two received no public disciplinary action.

See here and here for the background. Even if the Chief Judge of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals writes up a report about Judge Jones, it may never be made public. It would be nice to imagine Jones facing some actual consequences for her words, but it seems highly unlikely that will happen.

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