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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Setting an example

October 23, 2023

Ethics do apply — at least to some judges. The Fifth Circuit showed how it's done.

Milt Policzer

By Milt Policzer

Courthouse News columnist; racehorse owner and breeder; one of those guys who always got picked last.

Can one famously conservative court learn from another famously conservative court?

Probably not, but the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has set an interesting example for the U.S. Supreme Court.

The circuit’s chief judge the other day issued a complaint that basically says it’s not a good idea for a judge to preside over cases if the woman he lives with is involved in them.

It even quotes something called “The Code of Conduct for United States Judges,” to the effect that judges ought to avoid the appearance of impropriety and not allow family to influence judgment.

Maybe the Supreme Court ought to look into this Code of Conduct thing.

I know this won’t happen, but imagine if this complaint got appealed to the Supreme Court. Would there be a recusal?

Probably not.

In case you missed it, a very busy Texas bankruptcy judge named David Jones resigned a few days after the Fifth Circuit’s complaint. It seems, at least according to the complaint, that Jones had been living since 2017 with his former law clerk, who was a partner at a law firm with a lot of bankruptcy cases.

She was a partner with the judge and a partner with a law firm practicing in front of the judge. No one seemed to notice until this fall. My guess is that people were being polite.

You know who’s not polite?

Guys who file pro per lawsuits.

The judge, who’s been described as the busiest bankruptcy judge in the country, got outed by a math teacher who’s filed suits on his own behalf against school districts, the parents of a student, a bank, the Texas Workforce Commission, a law firm and, finally, in early October, David Jones.

It doesn’t look like this guy, Michael Van Deelen, has had a lot of success in his other suits, but somehow he got Jones off the court within weeks.

I have to pause here to explain journalistic bias. I’ve seen this many times over the years — reporters and editors instantly turn up their noses when they hear that a lawsuit has been filed without an attorney. The plaintiff must be a crazy person.

Often this is correct.

But sometimes it isn’t. Or maybe it is correct but the crazy person has a point.

The same journalistic logic (if it is logic) applies to anonymous letters.

Yes, there was an anonymous letter — attached to Van Deelen’s lawsuit — that apparently was sent to him. So this whole thing is based on an anonymous letter sent to a pro se repeat litigator. It’s journalistic algebra at its weirdest: multiplying two odd unreliable sources to equal an even reliability?

Somehow, local media picked up on the lawsuit and weeks later a judge resigned. It’s a news miracle.

I think the moral here is if you’re a judge doing bad things, avoid plaintiffs who represent themselves. They’re not polite.

Justice? We take hopeful news where we find it. Not all rogue police get away with bad behavior.

A federal judge in Michigan has denied qualified immunity to a police officer for a deadly shooting.

The victim was a dog.

Make of that what you will.

Categories / Op-Ed, Uncategorized

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