by Dennis Crouch
The Judicial Conduct and Disability Committee has denied Federal Circuit Judge Pauline Newman’s petition challenging the Federal Circuit Judicial Council’s misconduct finding against her. The Committee includes seven Federal Judges from around the country, chaired by Fourth Circuit Judge Traxler. The particular finding here is an affirming the Federal Circuit’s determination that Judge Newman committed serious misconduct by refusing to undergo a requested medical examination to assess whether she has a disability rendering her unable to discharge her judicial duties. In re Newman.
The complaint originated in March 2023 when the Federal Circuit Chief Judge Moore identified concerns about Judge Newman’s fitness for office based on incidents suggesting significant cognitive impairment. A Special Committee of Federal Circuit judges was appointed to investigate whether Judge Newman has a disability. The Committee ordered Judge Newman to undergo neurological and neuropsychological testing to make this determination. Judge Newman refused, arguing the special Committee lacked reasonable basis for the testing and her due process rights were violated.
The Special Committee and Judicial Council (consisting of all Federal Circuit judges except for Judge Newman) found Judge Newman’s refusal to comply constituted serious misconduct under the Rules for Judicial-Conduct and Judicial-Disability Proceedings. Her failure to cooperate meant that her “fitness” could not be determined. As sanction, Judge Newman was barred from hearing cases for one year, subject to renewal if she continues refusing to comply.
In her petition to the Broader Committee, Judge Newman argued the Council abused discretion by not transferring her case to another circuit and that alleged due process violations established good cause for her noncompliance. She also challenged the sanction as exceeding the Council’s authority.
The Committee upheld the misconduct finding and sanction. It found the Chief Judge and Judicial Council properly exercised discretion not to request a transfer per the Rules’ exceptional circumstances standard. Judge Newman’s due process arguments also failed since she received required procedures and access to evidence. The one-year case suspension comported with the Council’s responsibility to ensure effective court administration under the circumstances and was “not grossly in excess of other suspensions imposed under the Act.”
By unanimously affirming the finding against Judge Newman, the Committee reinforced judicial councils’ broad authority to investigate disability complaints and impose sanctions for noncompliance. However, its opinion indicates that a transfer may be warranted if, for instance, Judge Newman calls Judicial Council members as witnesses regarding her fitness in future Judicial Council proceedings.
Judge Newman’s lawsuit in the D.C. Circuit is ongoing, with the district court considering the motion to dismiss filed by her co-judges. Newman v. Moore, et al., Docket No. 1:23-cv-01334 (D.D.C. Filed May 10, 2023).