The federal courthouse in downtown Portland, Oregon is a little over ten years old. It is a building of curious architecture, facing east, with a majestic view of the Willamette River and Mt. Hood. On the top floor there is a balcony running the full width of the building for the chief judge of the Oregon federal court. It is a spectacular setting. Tucked away on the side of the building half as high up the building is the balcony for the public. The public's balcony is half the size of the chief judge's balcony. Meanwhile, the Pioneer Courthouse, which houses the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, is undergoing it's fifth makeover. With such luxurious surroundings, Oregon's federal judges could use a little accountability.
Federal Judge Manuel L. Real Gets Another Pass
Manuel L. Real is a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. He is noted for telling lawyers in the courtroom "This isn't Burger King. We don't do it your way here." In 1985, he threw out a $2 million libel suit against Boston attorney Michael Flynn because Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard didn't turn up for a deposition.
In August 2006, U.S. Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, moved for the Committee to investigate Real and consider impeaching him. Impeachment of a Federal judge is extremely unusual. The Committee subsequently discussed Real's conduct, but did not agree to recommend impeachment.
On September 21, 2006, Real told the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property that he did nothing wrong in seizing a bankruptcy case from another judge.
Also in 2006, an investigative committee of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judicial Council conducted a closed-door hearing in Pasadena into this misconduct allegation against Real. The charges were related to alleged wrongdoing in a bankruptcy case over which he presided.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Oregon, has received widespread criticism for not disciplining Judge Real. On September 19, 2006, a special commission headed by Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer castigated the 9th Circuit for its inaction, and 9th Circuit Chief Judge Mary M. Schroeder ordered a formal investigation of the Real matter.
On November 13, 2007, Real was publicly admonished by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. In Calderon v. IBEW Local 47, Real had dismissed the case because the plaintiff's lawyer asked to be notified by e-mail and then failed to appear at a hearing. The Appeals Court criticized Real for his "unseemly haste in dismissing the case" and added "Justice suffers when judges act in such an arbitrary fashion. We apologize to the parties and admonish the district judge to exercise more care and patience in the future."
In January 2008, the judicial discipline review body for the federal courts, the Conduct Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, disclosed that Real had been accused in a pattern in 72 cases over the years of not providing reasons for decisions as required. During this same time period, the Ninth Circuit has taken nine (9) cases away from Judge Real. He continues to judge.
Federal Judge Samuel Kent Goes to Jail
Last week, June, 2009, the U.S. House approved four articles of impeachment against U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent accusing him of sexually assaulting two female employees and lying to judicial investigators and Justice Department officials. All four articles of impeachment passed unanimously.
Kent, 59, entered a federal prison in Massachusetts on Monday last to serve a 33-month sentence. He pleaded guilty last month to lying to judicial investigators about sexual assaults of two female employees.
Kent is refusing to resign until next year so he can continue to draw his $174,000 a year salary. If he is convicted of the impeachment charges in the Senate, he will be forced off the bench.
As part of his plea bargain, Kent admitted that he tried to force Cathy McBroom, his former case manager, into unwanted sex acts in 2003 and 2007, and did the same with Donna Wilkerson, his secretary, from 2004 through at least 2005.
The is the first impeachment of a sitting federal judge since Florida U.S. District Court Judge Alcee Hastings was impeached in 1988 over numerous financial charges.
Judicial Accountability -- Federal
There are two places currently available where these judges are held to account in Oregon. The Robing Room and here. But forces are mobilizing to give kudos to judges who wear robes of gold and to identify those that should fold-up those robes and do something else.