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96-Year-Old Federal Appeals Court Judge Suspended Amid Controversy Over Her Mental Competency

by Ethan Kim
7 comments
Judicial competency

A U.S. federal appeals court judge, aged 96, has been suspended from presiding over cases for a period of one year, following a panel’s declaration that she has been uncooperative in undergoing medical evaluations. This comes amid rising questions about her mental capability to serve as a judge.

This episode marks a new twist in what has become an unusually contentious and public dispute concerning Judge Pauline Newman’s fitness to continue her tenure on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, a dispute that has even resulted in litigation and created divisions among fellow judges.

Appointed by President Ronald Reagan and serving on the bench for almost 40 years, Newman has steadfastly maintained her physical and mental suitability to rule on legal matters. She alleges that her judicial peers are making unfounded accusations in an effort to force her retirement due to her age.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, one of 13 such appellate courts in the United States, hears cases related to government contracts, patents, and trademarks. Federal judges, who are appointed by presidents and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, serve for life, and there is no prescribed age of retirement.

The Judicial Council of the Federal Circuit, consisting of Newman’s judicial contemporaries, stated that the suspension was essential due to her lack of cooperation in an investigation into her mental fitness. The council cited “reasonable concerns” that Newman is “impaired in a way that hinders her from effectively fulfilling her judicial responsibilities.”

According to the Judicial Council’s ruling, the suspension could either be extended beyond one year if Newman remains uncooperative, or lifted if she agrees to comply. Greg Dolin, Newman’s attorney, revealed that she had already been suspended since April during the ongoing investigation and clarified that they would seek a review from another committee that supervises judicial conduct on a national level. Dolin asserted that the imposed sanctions are “blatantly unlawful,” criticizing the investigation as fundamentally flawed.

In May, Newman initiated a federal lawsuit against her colleagues over the probe, which, according to her legal team, began after she declined to resign following requests from Chief Judge Kimberly Moore.

The Judicial Council has noted that interviews with court staff indicate “substantial mental decline, including memory lapses, confusion, an inability to grasp information, and extreme irritability.” They also highlighted that Newman had accumulated “an alarming backlog of cases” and had fallen behind her peers in delivering opinions.

Newman’s legal team contests that the recommendation for her suspension disregarded existing evidence, including a statement from a certified neurologist asserting that Newman’s “cognitive function is adequate for her continued involvement in court activities,” as well as data demonstrating no decline in her productivity.

Her lawyers argue that Chief Judge Moore and the committee she led have been focused solely on removing Newman from the bench, disregarding statutory mandates, constitutional boundaries, due process norms, conflict-of-interest rules, and basic principles of fairness.


Reported from Boston.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Judicial competency

What led to the one-year suspension of Judge Pauline Newman?

Judge Pauline Newman, a 96-year-old U.S. federal appeals court judge, was suspended for one year by the Judicial Council of the Federal Circuit due to her refusal to undergo medical evaluations aimed at assessing her mental fitness to serve on the bench.

Who initiated the investigation into Judge Newman’s mental fitness?

The Judicial Council of the Federal Circuit initiated an investigation into Judge Newman’s mental fitness. The council is comprised of her judicial peers on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

What are the areas of jurisdiction for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit?

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit hears cases related to government contracts, patents, and trademarks. It is one of 13 U.S. appellate courts.

Has Judge Newman taken any legal action against the suspension?

Yes, Judge Newman filed a federal lawsuit in May against her fellow judges over the investigation into her mental fitness. She accuses them of attempting to force her retirement due to her age.

What has been the response of Judge Newman’s legal team to the suspension?

Judge Newman’s legal team has criticized the Judicial Council’s decision as fundamentally flawed. They argue that the process disregarded existing evidence, including a neurologist’s statement affirming Judge Newman’s mental competency to continue serving.

What are the implications if Judge Newman continues to not cooperate?

The Judicial Council has stated that the one-year suspension could be extended if Judge Newman continues to be uncooperative. Alternatively, the suspension could be rescinded if she decides to comply with the medical evaluations.

What does the Judicial Council say about Judge Newman’s mental state?

The Judicial Council cites interviews with court staff that point to substantial mental decline, including memory lapses, confusion, an inability to grasp information, and extreme irritability. They also note that she has accumulated a backlog of cases.

Who is representing Judge Newman legally?

Judge Newman is represented by attorney Greg Dolin. He has revealed plans to seek a review from another committee that supervises judicial conduct nationwide and has termed the imposed sanctions as “blatantly unlawful.”

Is there a mandatory retirement age for federal judges in the U.S.?

No, federal judges in the U.S., appointed by presidents and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, serve for life and there is no mandatory age for retirement.

Who is Chief Judge Kimberly Moore and what is her role in this situation?

Chief Judge Kimberly Moore is the head of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. According to Newman’s legal team, she demanded that Judge Newman resign, thereby triggering the investigation and subsequent legal actions.

More about Judicial competency

  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
  • Judicial Conduct and Disability
  • Federal Judge Lifetime Appointments
  • Age Discrimination Laws in the U.S.
  • Overview of the U.S. Judicial System

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7 comments

Samantha Lee September 21, 2023 - 9:24 am

Age shouldn’t be the only factor here but mental fitness is crucial for a judge. The legal battles make this really messy.

Reply
Karen White September 21, 2023 - 5:31 pm

If she’s been serving nearly 4 decades, that’s a lot of experience to just set aside. But the law must be blind, not confused. Got to weigh the pros and cons.

Reply
Tim Johnson September 21, 2023 - 7:45 pm

so, there’s no retirement age for judges huh? That’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, experience is invaluable. On the other, mental decline is real.

Reply
Rachel Adams September 21, 2023 - 8:20 pm

The whole situation sounds like it’s torn the judiciary apart. Not a good look for any of the parties involved. And a lawsuit too? Wow.

Reply
Anthony Fields September 22, 2023 - 12:21 am

What I don’t get is why she refuses the medical tests. If she’s fit, wouldn’t that clear her name? Seems like a lose-lose for her.

Reply
John Smith September 22, 2023 - 2:03 am

Wow, 96 and still on the bench? That’s impressive, but I get why people are concerned about her fitness. Tough call, really.

Reply
Mike O'Reilly September 22, 2023 - 3:15 am

i can’t even imagine working at 96. but hey, if she’s still got it, why not? though the claims from court staff are worrisome.

Reply

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