Oldest federal judge who refused to take mental exam loses lawsuit over suspension, but she’s still not admitting defeat

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U.S. Circuit Judge Pauline Newman, 97, sued after being suspended from hearing cases following her refusal to submit to a mental examination. Newman, a Ronald Reagan appointee, was, until her suspension, the oldest federal judge still on the bench. (Screengrab via YouTube).

Days after celebrating her 97th birthday, U.S. Circuit Judge Pauline Newman lost her legal challenge to a suspension over concerns of mental deterioration. Another federal judge ruled Tuesday to reject Newman’s claims that the law underlying her suspension was unconstitutional.

Newman told Bloomberg News on Tuesday that she intends to appeal.

At 97, Newman is the oldest judge on the federal bench. She was appointed in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan and was the first judge appointed directly to the Federal Circuit. As the suspension order noted, Newman “served with distinction” for almost 40 years — and was even called “the heroine of the patent system” — before being suspended over concerns of her mental health.

Newman refused to cooperate with an investigation into her mental health after the nonagenarian’s judicial colleagues reported delays in completing work, multiple instances of inappropriate behavior, and concerns that the judge was habitually confused. The Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability conducted the investigation into Newman’s mental capacity and found “overwhelming evidence” of the judge’s memory loss, lack of comprehension, and confusion, and determined that the judge was often “frustrated, agitated, belligerent, and hostile towards court staff.”

The committee directed Newman to undergo a 30-45-minute interview with a neurologist and a full neuropsychological examination with hours of cognitive testing, but Newman refused to comply. She also refused to provide the committee with medical records. The committee responded with a suspension order that blocked Newman from receiving any new case assignments.

Newman countered the suspension with a lawsuit against Chief Circuit Judge Kimberly A. Moore and all the other Federal Circuit judges on the committee who handled the complaint about her mental capacity, a move the presiding judge described as “[f]ighting fire with fire.” In the lawsuit filed in federal court, Newman challenged not only the actions taken against her, but also the provisions of the Judicial Conduct & Disability Act that the committee relied upon in issuing the suspension order.

Newman was represented in the lawsuit by New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA), a public-interest law firm linked to conservative backers that focuses on the so-called “administrative state.” U.S. District Judge Christopher R. Cooper, a Barack Obama appointee, threw out portions of Newman’s lawsuit in February, but allowed some claims to move forward until Tuesday, when Cooper dismissed the entire case on the pleadings. In his 15-page ruling, Cooper did not focus the factual allegations against Newman. Rather, the ruling was confined primarily to rejecting legal challenges to the Judicial Conduct & Disability Act itself.

Cooper ruled that Newman failed to show that the act was unconstitutional on its face or as applied in her case and noted that there is long-standing precedent for allowing a special committee investigative authority.

Cooper wrote that in her pleadings, Newman simply “repackage[d] an argument that she made — and the Court rejected — in the last round of motions,” and rejected her contention that the investigatory provision of the law was void for vagueness.

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