Patent reform crusader and Federal Circuit Chief Judge Randall Rader will no longer be chief, after an ethics mini-scandal involving a complimentary letter to a friend who appeared before the court in recent cases. The court initially issued recusals and new opinions and orders in cases involving the attorney, before Rader issued a public letter of apology and announced that he would vacate the top seat in the circuit at the end of this month.
In all, a complimentary letter to a friend really is a tempest in a teapot, but kudos to Judge Rader, who will stay on the Federal Circuit bench, for erring on the side of proper appearances.
Lending the Prestige of the Office, Appearance of Impropriety
In March, Judge Rader sent an email to Edward Reines, a patent attorney at Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP's Silicon Valley office. The email related a third-party judge's comments that Reines was "IMPRESSIVE in every way," and Rader added: "I was really proud to be your friend," before encouraging Reines to let others see the message, reports The Wall Street Journal.
After Reines provided the letter to a potential client, it circulated amongst attorneys, raising questions of bias and the appearance of impropriety, especially since Reines had appeared before the court multiple times recently. The court recused Rader from those cases earlier this month, and reissued an opinion and an order in two separate cases.
In a letter to his colleagues [PDF], posted to the Federal Circuit's website last week, Rader apologized for his actions which necessitated the recusals, and provided a public record in order to "protect the court's integrity."
Rader admitted that his letter contained "certain inaccuracies" regarding his college's assessment of Reines' performance, and stated that the "email constituted a breach of the ethical obligation not to lend the prestige of the judicial office to advance the private interests of others."
He also admitted that "avoiding even the appearance of partiality is a vial interest of our courts, and I compromised that interest by transgressing the limits on judges' interactions with attorneys who appear before the court. I was inexcusably careless, and I sincerely apologize."
Rader's letter of apology borrows language from Canon 2 of the the Code of Conduct for United States Judges. Specifically, Canon 2(B) states:
"Outside Influence. A judge should not allow family, social, political, financial, or other relationships to influence judicial conduct or judgment. A judge should neither lend the prestige of the judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others nor convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge. A judge should not testify voluntarily as a character witness."
To many, a letter to a friend, complimenting him on his work, is no big deal. However, Rader's instruction to show the letter to others is where he crossed the line: he was basically publically endorsing an attorney who appeared before the court regularly.
If you give him the benefit of the doubt, he was simply being a good friend. But a reasonable person could see that letter and infer endorsement and possibly even the ability to influence Rader's decisions.
His prompt response, through recusals, a public apology, and resignation is exactly the correct response for a judge who has accidently crossed the line.
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