Chief Judge Edith Jones of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has long been unpopular with many lawyers and judges. Now her reputation for a certain nastiness has emerged in a public scandal after she screamed at her colleague Judge James L. Dennis to “shut up” or get out in the middle of an oral argument.
Even when I clerked on the Fifth Circuit near the start of Jones’ career, she was the subject of many complaints about her private demeanor and perceived bias. This however is a truly amazing transcript produced over at Above The Law.
MR. TURNER: I think the amount of drugs in that truck supports the intent to distribute. And the jury….
JUDGE DENNIS: Well, we’ve said over and over that the amount…. this court, no court has said that you can infer….
CHIEF JUDGE JONES: Judge Dennis….
JUDGE DENNIS: … just on the basis of the amount of drugs …
CHIEF JUDGE JONES: Judge Dennis!
JUDGE DENNIS: Can I, can I, can I ask a question?
CHIEF JUDGE JONES: You have monopolized, uh, uh, seven minutes….
JUDGE 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….
CHIEF JUDGE JONES slams her hand down on the table (loudly), stands halfway up out of her chair, and points toward the door.
CHIEF JUDGE JONES: Would you like to leave?
JUDGE DENNIS: Pardon? What did you say?
CHIEF JUDGE JONES: I want you to shut up long enough for me to suggest that perhaps….
JUDGE DENNIS: Don’t tell me to shut up….
CHIEF JUDGE JONES: … you should give some other judge a chance to ask a question …
JUDGE DENNIS: Listen, I have been in this courtroom many times and gotten closed out and not able to ask a question. I don’t think I’m being overbearing….
CHIEF JUDGE JONES: You’ve been asking questions for the entire seven minutes….
JUDGE DENNIS: Well, I happen to be through. I have no more questions.
CHIEF JUDGE JONES: I just want to offer any other judge an opportunity to ask a question. Some may support your position. If nobody else chooses to ask a question, then please go forward.
As the article explains below, Jones has been extremely harsh with other judges over civility issues and other misconduct. In August, Judge Sam Sparks (W.D. Tex.) was chastised by Jones for telling lawyers that they might have to go to a “kindergarten party” to learn manners. Jones reprimanded Sparks for his “caustic, demeaning, and gratuitous” order as “cast[ing] disrespect on the judiciary.”
Jones has often been cited as a candidate for the Supreme Court as one of the most conservative jurists in the country, though some of us have criticized her for opinions that can be superficial and outcome determinative. She was the General Counsel for the Republican Party of Texas. Her consistent hard right approach to cases often produces a perception of bias and rigidity — and a lack of patience with both lawyers and arguments that are contrary to her views.
Jones later apologized to Dennis, though the question is whether that is sufficient in such an outrageous act of incivility and rudeness. Certainly, it would not be enough under the Jones standard that she applied previously to other judges. The question is whether any lawyers will now bring formal complaints against her for the shocking display.
I have always been critical of the lack of civility in our courts. There are too many judges who are infamous for their arrogance and plain meanness. I was shocked recently, however, to see such an exchange from Richard Posner on the Seventh Circuit, a man who is deserving of great respect for his contributions as an academic and a judge.
[Update: Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs has now added his own name to this list of controversial conduct of judges]
Oral argument: Jones/Dennis Exchange
Source: Above the Law