Friday, August 24, 2012

In Re Complaint of Judicial Misconduct (9th Cir. - Aug. 24, 2012)

Chief Judge Kozinski quickly dispenses with yet another judicial misconduct complaint here, and (as is his policy) publishes the disposition.  As usual, the resolution is extremely concise, but the proper resolution.

Sometimes, though, in doing things quickly, one may give overly short shrift to particular components.  And Judge Kozinski might do that a bit here.

The complainant alleges that a district court judge was, essentially, a huge jerk to two of his or her staff members, and (1) fired them, and (2) tried to interfere with the efforts of one of them to get a new job.  I don't know who we're talking about here, but my guess is that it couldn't be too hard to figure out.

Judge Kozinski is right that the allegations here don't really count as judicial misconduct.  It's administrative stuff that's not really cognizable in a misconduct complaint.

But one of the allegations is that the district judge told his current employees that s/he'd fire anyone who even talked to the two terminated employees.  Fired even if these conversation were outside the workplace and concerned solely personal matters.

Again, I don't think this counts as misconduct, at least in the "Ninth Circuit complaint" sort of way.  But it does usually constitute being somewhat of a jerk, and it might even constitute a violation of the employee's First Amendment rights (speech, association, etc.).

Chief Judge Kozinski dismiss this allegation by saying, in part:  "But limiting whom employees may speak to, on and off the job, can be a legitimate management prerogative. For example, judges may forbid court employees from having private conversations with litigants or lawyers about pending cases."  But these types of limitations are worlds apart from what (allegedly) transpired here, and somewhat minimizes the potential impropriety.  Limiting communication when -- as in Judge Kozinski's example -- there's obviously a state interest in the limitation is different from limiting speech and association purely out of pique.

It's the right resolution.  But I might have expressed some slight additional concern over this allegation rather than analogizing it to entirely proper conduct that's very dissimilar to the (alleged) case at hand.

Even though, as usual in these types of cases, Judge Kozinski gets the ultimate resolution right.