The pressures of the bench may finally be affecting Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Edith Jones.
After admonishing District Judge Sam Sparks for acerbic opinions, (Sparks ordered two attorneys to report to a ‘kindergarten party’ after they were “unable to practice law at the level of a first-year law student” and issued an order in which he called out another attorney for incompetence), Chief Judge Jones is, herself, in the spotlight for bad manners.
First up? The infamous email criticizing Judge Sparks’ “caustic, demeaning, and gratuitous” treatment of attorneys. While email is a fast, efficient form of communication, it’s easily distributed to the masses with a click of a button. Every lawyer knows the danger of an email trail which makes some people question why Chief Judge Jones didn’t call Judge Sparks for a tête-à-tête.
Maybe Chief Judge Jones' frustration with the fact that her email, which was intended to be private, made its way into the public domain led to her unseemly outburst during oral arguments this week, during a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals en banc rehearing of U.S. v. Delgado.
Chief Judge Jones, apparently irritated that Judge James Dennis had spent seven minutes peppering the appellee with questions, interrupted Judge Dennis demanding that he give the other judges a chance to ask questions.
From the looks of the transcript that Above the Law created to document the spat, egos were raging in the Fifth Circuit during the hearing. Judge Dennis complained that he had earned the opportunity to monopolize question time because he had been closed out from asking questions in past hearings, and Chief Judges Jones told him to "shut up." Twice.
While we cannot find an Emily Post guide to attorney etiquette to verify judicial-shushing protocols - perhaps that could be our next FindLaw venture - this doesn't sound like standard courtroom decorum for the notoriously conservative Fifth Circuit.
Chief Judge Jones, perhaps hoping to set a better example for Judge Sparks, later apologized.
- Oral Argument Recording, U.S. v. Delgado (Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals)
- U.S. v. Delgado (FindLaw's CaseLaw)
- Fifth Circuit Filing Fee Increase Effective November 1 (FindLaw's Fifth Circuit blog)