(UnitedVoice.com) – America’s oldest federal judge has been suspended from taking new cases. A federal appeals court unanimously agreed that until the 96-year-old cooperates with an investigation into her fitness, she shouldn’t be assigned any more work. It’s an unusual case, with uncomfortable echoes of the growing controversy over elderly public servants who won’t step aside.
Judge Pauline Newman was appointed to the Washington, DC District Court by President Reagan in 1984 when she was already in her late 50s. Six presidents and 39 years later, she’s still at work. The difference is, now her colleagues don’t think she can do the job anymore.
In March, a court committee found that her workload had fallen dramatically, many of her cases had to be reassigned because of excessive delays — one had been open for 624 days — and she appeared to “suffer from impairment of cognitive abilities.” After that, the court stopped giving her new cases. In April, her court opened an investigation, claiming Newman wasn’t carrying out her duties or responding to concerns from other judges.
Newman refused to cooperate with the investigation or undergo medical tests to check her fitness for office, and the situation steadily escalated. The court opened a misconduct investigation over her non-cooperation. Newman refused to accept “senior status,” which would have allowed her to gracefully retire without formally stepping down. An August report accused her of “serious misconduct” and alleged a new list of mental failings, including paranoia and “angry rants.” Meanwhile, Newman, arguing that her own court shouldn’t judge her, sued her colleagues.
Now the Washington, DC Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled on the case. On September 20, it barred Newman from taking new cases for a year, or until she agrees to have a medical examination. Announcing the unanimous decision, the court said, “This is not a fitting capstone to Judge Newman’s exemplary and storied career” but added they had no choice but to suspend her.
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