Legal Ethics

Resolution Sought in Dispute over Competency Probe of US Judge as Tensions Escalate
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A federal judge expressed reluctance to rule on Judge Pauline Newman’s request to lift her suspension from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit while she undergoes a misconduct investigation. Instead, U.S. District Judge Christopher “Casey” Cooper suggested that Newman and her Federal Circuit colleagues attempt to resolve the dispute through mediation, proposing the nomination of a retired federal judge as a mediator.

Judge Cooper emphasized the need for mediation, likening the escalating dispute to a family disagreement that had spiraled out of control. He highlighted that, like any family, personal differences can arise, indicating that this case would greatly benefit from an alternative resolution process.

The ongoing legal battle has pitted Newman against her colleagues at the Federal Circuit, who initiated an investigation in March into allegations that the 96-year-old judge is experiencing a mental impairment that hampers her ability to fulfill her duties. Newman vehemently refused to cooperate with the investigation and filed a lawsuit against her colleagues, disputing the claims of impairment and accusing them of unlawfully sidelining her from the court without evidence of misconduct. Last month, Newman sought relief from the district court, requesting the lifting of her suspension.

  
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Judge Cooper exhibited caution in addressing the unique legal complexities surrounding the case, noting that Newman’s complaint primarily focused on procedural aspects concerning the Federal Circuit’s internal handling of the investigation. He encouraged both parties to find common ground and pursue a resolution outside of his direct involvement.

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However, the prospects of reaching a resolution seemed bleak to both sides involved.

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Greg Dolin, Newman’s attorney, reiterated that Newman would be willing to cooperate with investigators and undergo a neurological examination if the investigation were transferred to a different appeals court that he believed would provide a more impartial environment.

“This has gotten a bit personal,” Dolin expressed to Judge Cooper, underscoring the heightened tensions within the dispute.



Stephen Ehrlich, a lawyer from the U.S. Justice Department representing Chief Federal Circuit Judge Kimberly Moore and the colleagues pursuing the probe, informed Judge Cooper that the investigative committee had already considered and rejected Newman’s request for a transfer and did not appear inclined to reconsider the matter.

The three-judge investigative committee emphasized that without Newman’s cooperation, they would be unable to determine whether she has a disability. As a result, they planned to initially focus the investigation on Newman’s alleged failure to cooperate. A closed-door hearing is scheduled for next week to examine the question of whether disciplinary action should be taken against Newman.

The case has garnered significant attention due to the potential implications for Judge Newman’s future on the Federal Circuit and the broader impact on judicial proceedings. While Judge Cooper expressed reservations about intervening in the matter, he stressed the importance of finding a resolution to address all parties’ concerns.

As the legal battle continues to unfold, whether mediation or other avenues will pave the way for a satisfactory resolution remains to be seen. The outcome of this case could have far-reaching implications for the functioning of the Federal Circuit and the handling of similar disputes in the future.

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