U.S. Fifth Circuit - The FindLaw 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

5th Circuit to Exclude Judge From Execution Stay

Two judges on the Fifth Circuit agreed on Tuesday to exclude Judge Jones from the review of a death penalty stay, after Jones' "racist comments" lead to a formal complaint of judicial misconduct.

Judge Edith Jones, a former Chief Judge of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, was impaneled with two other judges for review of a stay of execution for Elroy Chester. Chester, a convicted murderer, was executed on Wednesday evening, reports The Associated Press.

This may be one of many death penalty cases Jones may be removed from, as her purported views on the death penalty have raised objections from many.

Jones’ Improper Comments

In early June, Judge Jones was accused of racial bias as well as making questionable statements about capital punishment during a speech made in February at University of Pennsylvania’s law school.

Particularly germane to Chester’s death penalty stay were allegedly comments that Jones had made about defenses to capital punishment, calling mental retardation a “red herring,” reports The New York Times.

Fifth Circuit’s Decision

In a decision that surprisingly included Judge Jones (she dissented of course), the Fifth Circuit voted to remove Jones under these “extraordinary circumstances” to consider Chester’s motion to stay execution.

Key to this decision to remove Jones was the Chief Judge’s role under 28 USC § 352 to “expeditiously review” complaints of judicial misconduct, which seems especially prudent considering the ticking clock of a death penalty stay.

The assertions of impartiality toward petitioners like Chester, who was both black and claimed mental disability, were enough for the court to take seriously questions about Jones’ impartiality.

Future Capital Cases With or Without Jones

Let’s not think that the death penalty will grind to a halt in the Fifth Circuit once Jones either is removed or recuses herself from a case. The new judicial panel chosen to consider Chester’s appeal denied his request for a stay of execution on Wednesday, leaving his execution to be carried out Wednesday.

Even if the Fifth Circuit, with or without the influence of Judge Jones, continues to deny habeas petitions from death row inmates, a death row inmate, eschewing all cynical impulses, can still hope for some clemency from Gov. Rick Perry.

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