Monday, June 29, 2015

Ninth Circuit Mandamus Actions (9th Cir. - June 29, 2015)

Today is apparently "Judge Jones" day in the Ninth Circuit.

Judge Jones, from the District of Nevada, is the subject of not one, but two (unrelated) published mandamus opinions today.  The first stems from his routine practice of denying pro hac vice status to U.S. government attorneys.  The United States finally got fed up with the practice and filed petitions for writs of mandamus.  In that one, the Ninth Circuit declined to formally issue the writ, since Judge Jones had technically reversed the practice in the particular case in which the writ was filed, but still issued a published opinion that essentially made clear that Judge Jones should cut it out.

In the second opinion, the Ninth Circuit in fact issues a writ, in a case in which Judge Jones had involved himself in a criminal plea negotiation, and also assigned the case to a different judge on remand.

So not an especially good day for Judge Jones.

The criminal mandamus case was unanimous.  The pro hac case, by contrast, was authored by Judge Milan Smith, but Judge Wallace concurred.  Judge Wallace's main beef was that the court shouldn't have issued an advisory opinion (and he's got a point there), and that the problem was best resolved by the Judicial Council of the Circuit rather than on a writ.  My sense is that Judge Smith didn't think that such a remedy was effective, particularly given how long Judge Jones has continued his practice, and felt like a more immediate response (e.g., a published opinion) would be preferable.

Two tiny additional things.  First, I thought it was interesting that in the criminal mandamus case, the Ninth Circuit never once mentioned that the judge at issue was Judge Jones.  Not once in the text, and (interestingly) not even in the caption.  Usually -- like in the pro hac case -- you've got a line that says "On Petition for Writ of Mandamus to the United States District Court for the District of Nevada Robert Clive Jones, District Judge, Presiding".  But in the criminal mandamus case today, the court leaves out that last part -- the part with Judge Jones' name.  The only way you can tell who we're talking about is by reference to the district court case number, which ends with "RCJ"; i.e., Judge Jones.

The second interesting thing is that one of the members of the pro hac opinion is Judge Wallace.  He was, indeed, the judge who concurred.  That puts him in a slightly tough spot, because guess who was a law clerk for Judge Wallace after graduation?  That's right:  Judge Jones.  Gotta be tough to preside over the alleged misconduct of a former clerk of yours.

Neat little opinions today.  A little insight into some justice as practiced in one particular courtroom in Nevada.