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.