U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has approved a request by 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Carl Stewart to transfer a formal complaint against 5th Circuit Judge Edith Jones to another jurisdiction.
Roberts' letter came the day after Stewart reassigned a last-minute death-penalty appeal from a panel comprised of himself, Jones and 5th Circuit Judge James Dennis to a new panel.
On June 4, a collection of civil rights groups, legal ethics experts and law school professors lodged a complaint against Jones, alleging she made a series of statements during a Feb. 20 lecture at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law titled "Federal Death Penalty Review" that demonstrated "racial bias" and indicated a "lack of impartiality."
The complaint also mentions an incident between Jones and Dennis, alleging that she "demonstrated extreme disrespect" during oral argument by asking Dennis if he "wanted to leave" the courtroom and saying she wanted him to "shut up." [See " Complaint: Judge Edith Jones' Speech Showed 'Racial Bias,' " Texas Lawyer, June 10, 2013, page 1.]
According to the 5th Circuit Rules of Judicial Conduct and Judicial-Disability, the chief judge of the 5th Circuit is responsible for determining whether a complaint against a federal judge should be dismissed or referred to a special committee for further investigation. However, the complainants asked Stewart to transfer the complaint to another circuit under Rule 26 of the Judicial Conduct and Judicial-Disability rules.
Stewart did so, according to a June 12 letter from Roberts. Roberts' letter notes that he received Stewart's request on June 7. The matter will now be heard by the disciplinary body for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, according to Roberts' letter, which doesn't name Jones.
"In response, I have selected the Judicial Council of the District of Columbia Circuit to accept the transfer and to exercise the powers of a judicial council with respect to the identified complaint and any pending or new complaints relating to the same subject matter," Roberts wrote.
On June 11, Stewart wrote a 2-1 unpublished decision reassigning a last-minute death-penalty appeal from a panel comprised of himself, Jones and Dennis to a new panel of 5th Circuit Judges W. Eugene Davis, Edith Brown Clement and Stephen Higginson.
Elroy Chester's hopes of staying his execution, scheduled for June 12 at 6 p.m., were dashed when the new panel denied his execution stay the morning of June 12.
Stewart explained the reason for the transfer in his June 11 decision in Elroy Chester v. Rick Thaler, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice: "The third member of this panel is the Chief Circuit Judge, whose duties under 28 U.S.C. §§ 351 et seq. give him a substantial role in the consideration of any complaint of judicial misconduct, including this one."
Stewart noted that Chester had attached a copy of the complaint of judicial misconduct filed against one of the members of the panel.
"Given these extraordinary circumstances, the panel has concluded that another panel must be assigned to consider the pending motions," Stewart wrote. "This conclusion is based on the connections between all three members of the panel and the complaint of judicial misconduct; no inferences should be drawn about the merits of that complaint."
Jones dissented to the decision.
Dennis concurred in the decision but wrote separately to express his view that Chester's execution should be stayed to give a new panel adequate time to consider further action in his case.
Susan Orlansky, an Anchorage, Alaska, solo who represents Chester, did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Tom Kelley, a spokesman for the Texas Attorney General's Office, declines comment about the case. Chester was executed.