Federal Judge Fights Sixth Circuit’s Reprimand

WASHINGTON (CN) — A federal judge sued the Sixth Circuit Judicial Council on Thursday, claiming that the court-ordered reprimand he faces for misconduct is unconstitutional, as is its demand that he undergo mental evaluation.

U.S. District Judge John R. Adams was appointed to the bench of the Northern District of Ohio, in Akron, by President George W. Bush in January 2003 and confirmed by the Senate that February.

On Feb. 15, 2013, four judges in the Northern District of Ohio filed a judicial complaint against him after a series of disputes involving funding, spending, what Adams calls “the District Court’s wasteful and inefficient use of resources,” and, specifically, Adams’s handling of a Social Security appeal.

The four judges complained that Adams had threatened a federal magistrate judge with contempt for missing a Social Security appeal deadline, which Adams said was a chronic problem at the court. The judges said Adams lacked the authority to issue that show cause order.

Adams describes his colleagues’ complaint like this, in his federal lawsuit: “The complaint alleged that Judge Adams lacked authority to issue the order [in the Social Security appeal] and further alleged that the order constituted ‘an extreme, unwarranted, and unjustified abuse of judicial discretion.’ The complaint also alleged that Judge Adams had a ‘strained relationship with the other judges of the court’ and had ‘withdrawn from participation in the governance and social life of the Court.’ The complaint did not attribute the show cause order or alleged strained relationship and withdrawal to any alleged disability or other condition.”

A special committee was appointed to investigate and Adams appeared before it in August 2013. In autumn that year, “the Special Committee demanded that Judge Adams undergo a psychiatric evaluation as part of its investigation,” but “identified no specific reason for the request,” Adams says in his complaint.

Adams says he objected “in good faith,” but voluntarily submitted to examination by a board-certified psychiatrist in November 2013, and submitted a report of it to the committee in January 2014. “The report concluded that Judge Adams did not suffer from any diagnosable mental disorder,” he says.

However, Adams says, the special committee rejected the report he submitted, and “persisted in its demand.” He agreed to be examined again, “provided certain reasonable conditions were met.” The conditions included “being provided specific information about the reasons for the examination, having input into the selection of the mental health professional chosen to perform the examination and the parameters of the examination, and agreed-upon limitations on any materials provided to the mental health professional selected to perform the examination. The Special Committee rejected every one of Judge Adams’ conditions.”

In February 2014, the committee told Adams that if he continued to resist another examination, “it would seek to expand the scope of its investigation to include whether he suffered from a disability and would order him to submit to a compelled examination.”

In the face of his continuing resistance, the committee did expand the scope of its investigation to include whether he suffered from a mental disability, and demanded that Adams provide it with complete records about his “mental or emotional treatment, counseling, evaluation or diagnosis,” and “all records regarding any psychotropic medications (such as mood stabilizers, antidepressants, or tranquilizers),” Adams says in the complaint. Again he objected, but then told the committee he had no such records.

After more wrangling, during which Adams submitted to a second mental evaluation — but not by the psychiatrist selected by the committee — an investigative hearing was held in April 2015.

Adams says that hearing was “anything but investigative. It was adversarial, if not accusatorial and antagonistic toward Judge Adams. It was also unfair.”

The committee submitted its report and recommendations to the Judicial Council in July 2015. It found that Adams had committed misconduct by issuing the order to show cause and by refusing to cooperate with the special committee.

The committee “recommended that Judge Adams be publicly reprimanded, ordered to undergo a psychiatric examination by a psychiatrist selected by the Special Committee, not be assigned any new cases for period of two years, and have his entire docket of current cases transferred to other judges, among other sanctions. It also ordered that Judge Adams ‘shall submit to any treatment or counseling deemed necessary by the psychiatrist.’ Further, it asserted that, should Judge Adams continue to refuse to undergo a psychiatric examination, he be requested to voluntarily retire,” according to the complaint.

After Adams responded to the report and recommendations, the Judicial Council issued an order and memorandum that “largely adopted the Special Committee’s recommendations,” but vacated the order that no new cases be assigned to him for two years. It agreed, however, that if he refused to undergo a mental health examination he could have his cases temporarily suspended as a form of sanction.

Adams appealed, but in August this year the review committee largely upheld the Judicial Council’s order and memorandum.

In his 24-page lawsuit, Adams claims the sanctions violate his Fifth Amendment rights to due process. In addition to the Judicial Council of the Sixth Circuit, he sued its chairman, Judge R. Guy Cole, the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability of the Judicial Conference of the United States, and its chairman, Judge Anthony J. Scirica.

Adams claims, inter alia, that the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980 is unconstitutionally vague, “because it lacks minimal enforcement guidelines identifying when an Article III judge may be subject to a disability investigation, and, accordingly, when an Article III judge may be disciplined for objecting in good faith to undergoing a compelled psychiatric examination as part of an investigation into whether he suffers from a disability rendering him unable to discharge his duties.”

Adams adds: “Plaintiff has an obvious liberty interest in the outcome of any misconduct or disability proceeding against him. He also has an obvious liberty interest in not being subjected to an involuntary psychiatric examination and a further liberty interest in not being stigmatized as having committed misconduct and having his mental health questioned.”

He asks the court to declare unconstitutional the Judicial Council’s order and memorandum requiring him to undergo a psychiatric exam. He is represented by Paul Orfanedes with Judicial Watch.

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