Chief Judge Edith Jones Attacks Fellow Judge in Oral Argument And Yells At Him To Shut Up Or Leave The Courtroom

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….
JUDGE DENNIS: … just on the basis of the amount of drugs …
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

36 thoughts on “Chief Judge Edith Jones Attacks Fellow Judge in Oral Argument And Yells At Him To Shut Up Or Leave The Courtroom

  1. Anger management class might help though the anger could be feigned … there are those who believe the louder, the more intimidating.

  2. I don’t like the way Judge Jones treated Judge Dennis either, but I have very little critical to say about her chastizing of Judge Sparks with that “kindergarten” line in his order. While I agree her rudeness is beneath the dignity of the court, I’d still like to hear a little more about the events leading up to the outburst. I agree that her past history of complaints is relevant to her fitness for the bench, however, this episode seems more a personality conflict than a disqualifier from duty. Now her superficial opinions and outcome determinative jurisprudence are deal brakers, but I don’t see enough here to call her fitness into question.

  3. Mespo,
    I don’t need to hear what happened before that exchange because the chief judge can never lose her temper, especially at another judge in open court. This kind of action, if it is not an isolated incident, is enough for me to call her fitness into question. I do agree with you that she should have sanctioned the judge who made the kindergarten comment, as long as she did it in a professional manner.

  4. rafflaw:

    In my experience, judges are people too. Anyone can push your buttons and outbursts occur. I am impressed that she apologized and made that known publicly, apparently. I am not impressed with her jurisprudence but I try not to let that influence my take on her conduct.

    My father used to say, judge your enemy by the standards you apply to your friends to see if what you conclude is right. That man was the best judge I ever saw and the closest he ever got to the courtroom was his office in the school administration building a few blocks away. Life is funny sometimes. Boy, he could really get the bottom of things — and in a hurry.

  5. So it won’t be confused about or with anything else, she is a B****…..She was the cause of a number of COA Judges confirmations being held up…I have heard…..

    Prof…If you want…I have the Sparks Opinion….

  6. blouise, rafflaw, ay:

    You can listen to the exchange here. Let me know what you think. Judge Dennis is no shrinking violet either. The interesting part is at about 47:30.

    [audio src="" /]

  7. Mespo,
    Your Dad’s adivce was sound. I judge the chief judge at a higher level because of her position. I am not as good as you in that I cannot divorce her jurisprudence from her actions. In my opinion, the true believers like this chief judge, think they are above the rest of us. I don’t think you can have any judge thinking like that.

  8. How about this judge?

    GA Judge Ousted For Smoking Pot, Pulling A Gun In The Courthouse
    Jillian Rayfield | September 22, 2011

    Georgia Magistrate Judge Anthony Peters was thrown off the bench after a pattern of bizarre behavior that included pot-smoking, kicking in doors, and pulling a gun out in the courthouse and asking a fellow judge: “I am not scared. Are you all scared?”

    The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously voted to oust Peters earlier this month, ruling that he should be “permanently removed from his position as a judge and barred from ever holding or seeking elected or appointed judicial office in the State of Georgia.”

    Court documents on the inquiry into Peters’ behavior describe one incident in February 2009, when Peters showed up at his sister-in-law’s estranged husband’s house, identified himself as a Magistrate Judge, and kicked in two doors in the house to get access to two bedrooms.

    There was also an incident in the spring of 2009 when Peters pulled out a gun at the Catoosa County Courthouse, pointed it at himself and said to another Magistrate Judge: “I am not scared. Are you all scared?”

    In June 2010 Peters made a call to a local TV talk show, and according to court documents,
    “after initially trying to disguise his voice with multiple foreign accents while speaking with the Catoosa County Sheriff (who was being interviewed on the show), told the Sheriff that he had ‘crapped himself’ and that the Sheriff was a ‘spineless jelly spine.'”

    The inquiry also found that he had been smoking pot at least once a week from March-May of 2010.

  9. I agree with Rafflaw. This is not a situation where people are required to sit in the same room doing the same things for hour after hour without breaking, day after day, with the same irritating other people. These judges spend relatively little time hearing oral argument as most of their work is not done in public. They have ample time apart if they need respite from one another’s irritating foibles, and ample time in private to address those foibles. While this single display of temper does not establish she is unfit for office, it is enough to raise a question about her fitness regardless of her previous interactions with Judge Dennis.

  10. Just read that she was Bush’s backup ..for Souter….God, did we get lucky….Ok, those not in belief…Holy Oak Tree…..

  11. I listened to the recording and agree that he was monopolizing the question period with some hard questions for the government’s attorney so understand why she wanted to end his time however, the slam on the bench could be easily heard and the “shut-up” was completely unnecessary. (Lunchtime in the high school cafeteria where the lunch lady is always slamming a table and yelling at everyone to shut up!)

    I rather like the manner in which he quickly responded underlining her objectionable word choice … “Don’t tell me to shut up.”

    He got the better of her and didn’t even have to apologize.

  12. When I was a kid my dad did a lot of business at City Hall & in the summer I would sometimes tag along & spend the day in various court rooms watching what went on. Maybe it was the position but I thought at the time how even tempered the judges all were. I saw bad behavior by defendants and witnesses and I saw judges reprimand lawyers for not doing their job but I was always impressed by how they did it. For years I would tell people how clowns like “judge” Judy were nothing like actual judges.

    Maybe I was wrong. This one seems to be primed to take up the 3-3:30 slot berating people inappropriately for the entertainment of morons.

  13. Take it with a grain… it’s from Wikipedia… Hopefully, it’s correct…

    “Jones has been mentioned frequently as being on the list of potential nominees to the Supreme Court of the United States. A 1990 report from The New York Times cited her as George H.W. Bush’s second choice for the Supreme Court vacancy filled by Justice David Souter.[2] The Chicago Sun-Times and several other newspapers reported on July 1, 2005 that she had also been considered for nomination to the Supreme Court during the presidency of George W. Bush.” (Wikipedia)

  14. I should have done this when the Judge Sparks’ order was first posted. Judge Sparks is a fine judge and gentleman. I do not know the attorneys who were practicing before him, but I know their type — an invasive species every bit as loathsome as carpetbaggers.

    In Texas, it has long been the tradition of counsel to confer and attempt to work out in good faith scheduling and discovery issues. Lawyers who failed to do so were shunned. Social ostracism had its own curative effect.

    Over time, standard cordiality was replaced with everyday sharp dealing. These new lawyers came to be viewed as the modern warrior, never give an inch. (Of course litigation costs went out the roof).

    The courts responded by placing within their various rules requirements that attorneys work out non-material issues and quit wasting the court’s time and their client’s resources. Some folks just didn’t get the memo, or they refused to read it.

    it’s obvious to me that Judge Sparks attempted in a humorous way to embarrass the lawyers in complying with rules that are well known to all but still violated by many. BTW, check out the criminal docket for the federal courts of the western district of Texas — the number of cases far exceeds the docket of any other district in the nation, and that of may States. Time for these courts is as rare as water in west Texas.

    That Justice Jones took issue with Judge Sparks’ action is its own vindication of the judge’s wisdom. And that the lawyers appealed his order serves an admission against interest — loathsome as carpetbaggers.

  15. Judge Jones was two years behind me at UT Law, so I never met her. However, her reputation is that of a rigid, doctrinaire conservative. I believe it is telling that she was on George Bush’s short list for the Supremes. Finally, I note that she is a graduate of Cornell, which I of course regard as one of the (sniff, sniff) lesser Ivies.

  16. This is the typical and mandatory statement of any wing nut who has to hear anything they may not like to hear. “Get out”, “shut up”.

    Dont like the Patriot Act? Then leave the country.
    Dont like GW Bush? Get out.
    Dont like our foreign policy? Dont let the door hit you in the backside on your way out.
    Dont like the war? Get out, you frekin’ traitor.

    And “shut up”.

  17. Noah V,

    That’s a pretty old post. The incident has now been resolved, and my take on it is that the accusations were shown to be false and total nonsense and in fact one female Wisconsin Supreme Court judge’s attempt to game the system using the tropes of workplace and domestic violence.

    Which makes me wonder if she is stupid and got her job because she’s a woman and quotas and cronyism, or if she cynically knew she was doing both to justice as well as to actual victims of workplace or domestic violence.

    False allegations made by a top judge. Truly disgusting stuff. But it makes you wonder just how many rape and dv charges are total bullshit too. And how often judges and everyone else in the system knows that, regardless of how many feminists shout otherwise.

  18. I know the incident is past. I couldn’t remember if it had been on this forum.

    I don’t agree with your take on it that the accusations were shown to be false and total nonsense and in fact one female Wisconsin Supreme Court judge’s attempt to game the system using the tropes of workplace and domestic violence.

    The investigation got passed around like a hot potato with inconclusive results.

    The following three paragraphs are from

    “Sauk County District Attorney Patricia Barrett, a special prosecutor in the case, said that after reviewing investigators’ reports, she decided there’s no basis to file charges against either Justice David Prosser or Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, who accused Prosser of choking her.

    “Barrett, who is a Republican, told The Associated Press that the accounts of the other justices who were present when the alleged altercation occurred varied widely, however she declined to elaborate.

    ” ‘ I believe a complete review of the report suggests there is a difference of opinion. There are a variety of statements about what occurred … the totality of what did happen does not support criminal charges against either Justice Bradley or Justice Prosser,’ Barrett said.”

    According to “When contacted by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism Prosser did not deny there had been physical contact between him and Bradley.”

    She said he choked her, and he said he used his hands to block her neck from charging him. Four other Justices in the room agreed with him or with her, respectively, based on their own party affiliation.

  19. There are many other issues with judges in this district. In a recent civil case in Texas, District Judge Royal Furgeson made the following remarks on the record in a civil case:

    THE COURT: They do and I have jurisdiction, too. So I’ll tell you what…. You want to challenge the court order, I have the marshals behind me. I can come to your house, pick you up, put you in jail. I can seize your property, do anything I need to do to enforce my orders. I’m telling you don’t screw with me. You are a fool, a fool, a fool, a fool to screw with a federal judge, and if you don’t understand that, I can make you understand it. I have the force of the Navy, Army, Marines and Navy behind me.

    THE COURT: You realize that order is an order of the Court. So any failure to comply with that order is contempt, punishable by lots of dollars, punishable by possible jail, death .

    More information about this case is available at

  20. The comments and attacks upon this Judge are out-rageous! It is clear that Judge Jones IS ONE OF A VERY FEW who speak about the Vast Corruption and utter immorality of the United States Courts!
    The United States Federal Courts are akin to Marauding bandits upon the nation’s highways and by-ways! Giant Hookers and Pimps crusing the land in search of innocence, money and sex.
    Clearly they privately laugh at the masses who are relentlessly in search of “their” constitutional rights! The Chief Justice Roberts is a demonic and sadistic brute (probably the reincarnated Hitler) with ass ociate hitlers…people like the bald-headed Breyer….a consummate liar and hypocrit!
    I predict, that this would be the next Revolution taking hold of the country call America, as the masses awake from their slumber! it cannot be easy being the Hon. Jones. Please do not for one moment assume that because she is a Conservative, that she is morally deranged…like, a….Roberts!
    Indeed, she is saddled with gross un-fairness, because she has decided to go “The road Not Taken.”

  21. Is there anyplace for Real American Citizens to express their Outrage at this abuse of judicial privilege? Judge Jones should be sent home on a rail, tarred and feathered!

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