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In one tale of judicial pique, a federal judge in California, angered by a ringing cellphone, came down from the bench, took the chirping device from an elderly spectator and threw it clattering down the court hallway, then ordered marshals to confiscate all the phones in court � including lawyers’ � and turn them off. Ask almost any lawyer in court hallways or over a beer and they have war stories of abuse at the hands of a federal judge, but complaints for misconduct filed by lawyers for intemperate behavior remain rare. “You have got to be crazy,” responded a federal litigator on the West Coast when asked if he would ever file a complaint for misconduct, including intemperate behavior on the bench. The litigator, who asked not to be identified, was typical of many attorneys contacted. “Judges tend to stick together and support each other. They are not blind to their brethren’s peccadilloes,” he said. An ‘expensive venture’ Another lawyer who practices in federal court said chief judges are unlikely to take aside a judge with an attitude problem and attempt to correct it. “Are you kidding? I can’t get my colleagues to give me honest evaluations of their secretaries and you think one federal judge will talk to another about attitude?” “The state court systems have more enforcement, particularly in this area,” said Thomas M. Fitzpatrick of Talmadge Law Group in Tukwila, Wash., and a member of the American Bar Association commission revising the Model Code of Judicial Conduct. “There is very little federal discipline taken in that arena. The problem from the rules perspective is that it is very difficult to write a rule that addresses that conduct,” he said. One attorney, who also asked not to be identified, said he filed a mandamus action regarding a judge’s conduct early in his career and won. The judge punished him for it for years. “For what it did to clients the next few years, that was an expensive venture,” he said. Another difficulty stems from the nature of the legal community. A lawyer may be asked to serve on a committee with a judge and doesn’t want to have complained about that same judge. “You get co-opted,” he said. “There is no question judges should be independent, but not tyrannical or arrogant; that is not a hallmark of independence,” said Peter Keane, dean emeritus of Golden Gate University School of Law and author of California’s 1994 judicial reform initiative. “Healthy oversight is not interfering with independence. To have it, independence must include the ability to sanction judges who are out of line in their courtrooms,” he said. Public reprimands can work. In 2001, U.S. District Judge Jon Phipps McCalla, who is known in Memphis. Tenn., for long harangues, accusing a clerk of staring at him and once grabbing a lawyer by the lapels, submitted to a six-month leave from the bench and behavioral counseling for a “pattern of intemperate and abusive treatment of lawyers.” In re Complaint of Judicial Misconduct, No. 00-6-372-66. He’s been back on the bench handling high-profile cases well. “In the cases I’ve covered recently, he has been thorough, evenhanded and done a good job,” said Lawrence Buser, a reporter who covers federal court for the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Only one judge in U.S. history has been impeached for what the House of Representatives called “tyrannical, coarse, indecent manner and abuse of power.” George W. English, a judge in the Eastern District of Illinois, became the subject of news accounts for his behavior and was impeached in 1926 by a 306-62 House vote. He resigned before charges were dismissed by the Senate. English was said to curse at lawyers in court and assign lucrative bankruptcy cases to a friend, according to a 1926 Time magazine account. English was reported to remark that, “If I tell a jury to find a man guilty, and they do not, I will send them to jail.” Whether it was a jest or “tyrannous conduct” remained in dispute, Time reported.

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