Judge Pauline Newman, a 96-year-old federal appeals judge, may face a temporary suspension from hearing cases due to her alleged lack of cooperation with a special committee investigating her competence. On Monday, July 31, 2023, the committee, composed of three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, released a report and recommendation that accuses Judge Newman of refusing to undergo medical examinations and interviews.

The case is entitled “In the Matter of Judge Newman,” with case no. 23-900015.

On March 24, 2023, the establishment of the Special Committee took place, tasked with the investigation and subsequent presentation of its findings and recommendations pertaining to a lodged complaint against Judge Newman. This complaint raises concerns about the possibility that Newman might be dealing with a mental or physical disability that could impede her ability to fulfill her judicial responsibilities. The case stemmed from a complaint by Hon. Kimberly A. Moore, Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Moore’s complaint raises concerns about Newman’s delayed opinions affecting judicial efficiency, citing accounts from colleagues and court affiliates expressing doubts about Newman’s competence.

At the age of 96, Judge Newman boasts an impressive 39-year tenure as an esteemed and active member of the court. Her contributions, both numerous and valuable, have greatly enriched the court, the patent system, and the field of law, solidifying her status as a respected and esteemed colleague.

The filing states:

“The staff have reported that Judge Newman has been unable to remember from day to day how to perform simple tasks, such as bringing the standard materials (e.g., briefs and bench memos) to court, logging onto the computer network, and locating files. The staff also report that, when help has been offered on these matters, she has appeared “paranoid” and insisted that her devices are hacked and bugged, sometimes by the Court itself. She has appeared unable to comprehend or recall explanations that are given to her, and staff have had to address the same matters over and over with her. Staff across the Court have reported exchanges with Judge Newman in which they have had to answer the same questions from her repeatedly in the same or subsequent days (many recorded in email exchanges) because she has not remembered or understood the answers”

In relation to this, the committee repeatedly instructed Judge Newman to undergo medical evaluations, including neurological and neuropsychological assessments by chosen professionals. They also requested specific medical records and invited her for an interview. Despite extensive evidence raising concerns about cognitive or physical impairment, and despite multiple reminders for medical exams, records, and an interview, Judge Newman declined to cooperate.

Given the circumstances, the committee deemed Judge Newman’s actions impeding the investigation to constitute a grave form of misconduct. According to the committee, the ongoing misconduct cannot be adequately addressed with a lenient punishment that a judge with a lifetime appointment might dismiss. Rather, the committee asserted that the most fitting response to this significant issue is the suspension of all case assignments for a defined duration of one year.

The filing continues:

“The Committee also concludes that Judge Newman’s failure to cooperate with the Committee’s orders constitutes misconduct. As explained below, Judge Newman’s refusal to cooperate with the Committee’s orders has seriously undermined the Committee’s ability to carry out its duties under the Act. It has impeded the Committee’s ability to fulfill its central task of reaching a recommended finding as to whether Judge Newman suffers from a disability that renders her unable to perform the duties of her office. Impeding the Committee’s investigation qualifies as conduct “prejudicial to the effective and expeditious administration of the business of the courts.” See 28 U.S.C. S 351(a). In addition, Judge Newman has not shown any good cause for her refusal to cooperate.”

The committee cleared that the recommendation stands, with the possibility of review if the observed lack of cooperation persists beyond this point. Furthermore, the recommendation remains open for reconsideration or adjustment should circumstances change, such as the cessation of the lack of cooperation or other significant developments.

The recommendation states:

“Accordingly, Judge Newman’s conduct thwarting the Committee’s investigation cannot go unpunished and can- not be met with a minor sanction that a life-tenured judge might ignore. Instead, the Committee believes that the only sanction that would appropriately impress upon Judge Newman the seriousness of this matter is the temporary suspension of all case assignments for a fixed time period, as described above.”

Judge Newman sits as a Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit located at 717 Madison Place, NW, Washington, DC 20439, and can be reached at (202) 275-8000. Her info can be found on Ballotpedia.org.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.