The complaint against Judge Edith Jones for her death penalty speech

As someone who once prosecuted Nebraska’s Attorney General in an impeachment case based upon alleged ethical violations, and as a judge who spent six years writing opinions regarding the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, I was interested in the complaint filed against Edith Jones, a judge (and former chief  judge) of the Fifth Circuit.   That complaint has generated a lot of publicity.

I spent a little time today examining the complaint and the four affidavits that were reproduced on a newspaper’s website.  Part of the complaint deals with the content of what the judge allegedly said during a speech to the Federalist Society at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.  The speech dealt with the death penalty.

Evidently, there is no recording of the judge’s speech.   There are, however, affidavits of four attendees–a lawyer with a death penalty group, and three other audience members.   You can’t clearly determine if the other audience members were all law students, but that appears to be the case.  The affidavits of the other audience members were redacted in the published versions of the affidavits.

While its only my opinion, even if one takes the facts stated in the affidavits as generally true, the content of Judge Jones’ remarks at the law school seem to me to be a very weak basis for claiming that she violated the Code of Conduct.* Indeed, I find it more than a little frightening that a serious but plainspoken and outspoken judge like Jones can be forced to defend herself for the content of a law school speech on the death penalty that offended some of the audience members.**


*The rambling complaint does an extremely poor job of tracking the affidavits.  That is, the complaint appears to grossly overstate the specific facts recounted in the affidavits.

**To be clear, I have met Judge Jones once in my life and that was about ten years ago at a conference with other judges.  I don’t think Judge Jones would know me from a hot rock.  Furthermore, I have agreed with some of her judicial opinions, and I have disagreed with others.

7 responses

  1. I cannot speak for Judge Jones but I suspect most of us could distinguish between a hot rock and a hot rockstar federal judge fom Nebraska:)

  2. Pingback: I bet Judge Jones has an ugly truck « Hercules and the umpire.

  3. If I was a black inmate looking at being sentenced in federal court by Judge Jones, the comments attributed to her would certainly make me wonder if the sentence that she was going to give me was because of my actions or because of her belief that my race is prone to violent acts.

  4. Dear Mr. Sparks,

    I get your point. I wonder, however, whether that ought to be used as grist for an ethics complaint, particularly when the complaint itself may not accurately represent the facts as stated in the affidavits.

    All the best.


  5. Ethics rules require that judges not present themselves in a way that would lead the public to believe they are biased. You, my friend, are seeing the actions of Judge Edith Jones through your conservatively tinted glasses. If the allegations in the affidavits are correct, Judge Jones stated explicitly that she does not believe in the validity of legal defenses that are currently available to defendants under the law. What then is the likelihood that she would be willing to apply the law equitably regarding those defenses? What’s more, she seemed to suggest that blacks and hispanics commit more violent crime by virtue of their race. She seems unable or unwilling to comprehend or consider whether other factors, such as a higher incidence of poverty, contributes to the higher incidences of crime by minorities. Finally, she talked about cases that she had heard that were on appeal, that could very well end up before her again. That is specifically prohibited under the Judicial Code of Conduct. This woman is an abhorrent racist, bigot and misogynist. She needs her bigotted backside kicked off the bench.

  6. JC,

    I think we will have to agree to disagree on this one. On one point, I think I will take issue with you. Please don’t confuse being a skeptic with being a conservative. While they are frequently the same thing, they are not always the same thing.

    All the best.


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