Is Judge Jones becoming the new Judge Real?
Three civil rights organizations claim that Nevada isn't following the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. That statute creates a private cause of action, and plaintiffs have some pretty good evidence that Nevada isn't, in fact, doing what the statute requires. (For example: Plaintiffs "showed that the number of
voter registration applications submitted to Nevada public
assistance offices “decreased precipitously”—by 95% from
2001–2002’s high point to 2009–2010’s low point—despite
a four-fold increase in the number of food stamp applications
during this period. Second, the letter cited U.S. Census
Bureau data from 2010, which showed that only 47.6% of
low-income Nevadans were registered to vote, compared to
72.4% of high-income Nevadans. Third, the letter presented
the results of field investigations Plaintiffs conducted in
December 2011, approximately five months before they sent
the letter. Plaintiffs’ investigators visited Nevada public
assistance offices and surveyed the clients and clerks of thoseo ffices. They discovered that clerks in seven of nine offices
they visited provided voter registration application forms only
to people who affirmatively requested them. Office staff
indicated that this was “standard procedure.” Of the clients
surveyed, only one out of the five who affirmatively
requested a voter registration application form received one.
Two of the nine offices did not have voter registration
application forms at all. Only nine out of the 51 clients
surveyed received voter registration application forms with
their benefits applications or other forms. Only two of nine
sites displayed the notifications required by state law.")
So plaintiffs sued. Following, as they were required to do, the various administrative prerequisites to such a lawsuit.
The district court nonetheless dismissed the lawsuit. Virtually sua sponte. Doing so in a series of maneuvers that, at a minimum, are unusual, and -- to some viewers, no doubt -- outright bizarre.
I shan't describe in detail all that transpired in Judge Jones' courtroom. For that, you'll have to read the entire opinion. But, in the end, the Ninth Circuit not only reverses Judge Jones, but assigns the case to a different judge on remand. Saying:
"The reasons for our
conclusion are apparent from what we have written above,
and we review them only briefly here. The judge sua sponte
sought to limit the effectiveness of representation by insisting
unreasonably that only two of Plaintiffs’ chosen out-of-state
attorneys be given pro hac vice status. [Citation].
The judge did this despite the plea of Plaintiffs’ Nevada
lawyer that he needed the expert assistance of out-of-state
counsel who specialize in NVRA litigation, and over the
objection of one of the would-be out-of-state counsel that the
judge’s ruling would prevent depositions from being taken in
Nevada by associates in his firm. The judge’s actions came
very shortly after the Ninth Circuit had deemed “troubling”
his comments regarding out-of-state counsel in another case
involving a different Nevada agency. [Citation]. Based on this and other
cases, a reasonable observer could conclude that the judge’s
feelings against out-of-state attorneys are both well-established
and inappropriately strong. See Great Basin Res.
Watch v. United States Dep’t of the Interior, No. 3:13-CV-
00078-RCJ, 2014 WL3697107, at *3 (D. Nev. July 23, 2014)
(this same judge expressly stated he would “presume that
the out-of-state lawyers are unwilling to obey the ethical
strictures that govern all other attorneys”). Further, the judge
sua sponte and without notice dismissed Plaintiffs’ case based
on a motion the State had previously withdrawn, pursuant to
a joint stipulation by the parties. Still further, the judge
misread the complaint when he concluded that Plaintiffs had failed to allege that they had changed their behavior and had
thus suffered no injury, when Plaintiffs had alleged that they
had expended additional resources on voter registration as a
result of the State’s violation of Section 7. Finally, the judge
dismissed the complaint without leave to amend despite
Plaintiffs’ explicit request that they be allowed to amend their
complaint if the judge found its allegations insufficient."
That's a pretty telling indictment of the district court's conduct. As is the assignment to a different judge.
And it's not the first time, either.
Maybe it's just Judge Jones' distaste for out-of-state lawyers that's the problem. Or maybe there's a larger problem here as well.
But today's opinion suggests, at a minimum, that there's a problem.
One that hasn't -- and likely won't -- go away.