The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals typically is a collegial court — at least during oral arguments. But during Sept. 21 en banc arguments in United States v. Maria Delgado, 5th Circuit Chief Judge Edith Jones felt the need to tell Judge James Dennis to “shut up.” She later apologized.
As is common in en banc oral arguments before the 5th Circuit, lawyers on both sides had reserved time for questions from the judges. At the conclusion of the prosecutor’s argument in the drug case, Dennis was asking some hard questions of the government’s lawyer. According to the court’s recording of the argument (go to the 47:40 mark), the following exchange occurred:
Jones: “Judge Dennis.”
Dennis: “Can I . . . ask a question?”
Jones: “You have monopolized . . . seven minutes.”
Dennis: “Well, I’m way behind on asking questions in this court. I have been quiet a lot of times and I am involved in this case.”
Jones: “Would you like to leave?”
Dennis: “Pardon? What’d you say?”
Jones: “I want you to shut up long enough for me to suggest that perhaps . . .”
Dennis: “Don’t tell me to shut up.”
Jones: “. . . you give some other judge a chance to ask a question.”
Dennis: “Listen. I’ve been in this courtroom many times and got closed out and not able to ask a question. I don’t think I’m being overbearing.”
Jones: “You’ve been asking questions for the entire seven minutes he has had open so far. I just want to offer to any other judge the opportunity to ask a question.”
At the conclusion of argument in the court’s final case of the day, United States v. Anthony Kebodeaux, Jones offered an apology, but the court’s recording cuts off before Jones is finished.
“I said I apologized to Judge Dennis for my intemperate language in the last argument,” Jones says in an interview. “And you might add, he accepted my apology.” She adds, “I’ll let the record speak for itself.”
Dennis did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
Last week Texas Lawyer reported that Jones had sent an Aug. 30 email to U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks of Austin and other judges in the Western District of Texas that took Sparks to task for several sharply worded orders he has written lately. [See them here and here.] One of those orders, which came out on Aug. 26, invited a pair of lawyers involved in a subpoena dispute to a “kindergarten party.”
Jones declined to comment on the substance of the email, saying, “It’s an internal matter. And I’m saddened that somebody breached the intended limited scope of the intended distribution.”