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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Courts - More on: "Judges In Pa. Corruption Case Likely to Evade Civil Charges" Indiana case mentioned

The SCOTUS opinion in the Indiana case of Stump v. Sparkman is in the news again today. Here is the SCOTUS 1978 opinion. (For more background, see this ILB entry from March 28, 2007.)

The most recent ILB entry is from Oct. 30, 2009.

And today Ashby Jones of the WSJ writes under the headline "New Lawsuits Try to Pierce Shield of Judicial Immunity." Some quotes from the long column:

People who believe they have been wronged by a judge can ask the judge to reconsider, appeal to a higher court or, if they suspect judicial wrongdoing, ask a bar association to investigate.

But one thing people can't generally do is sue. The rationale behind the notion -- called absolute judicial immunity -- is straightforward: Judges shouldn't have to defend themselves in court whenever they issue a ruling that makes someone unhappy.

But a set of civil lawsuits filed against two former Pennsylvania judges is testing the doctrine of judicial immunity.

The doctrine doesn't protect judges from facing criminal charges. * * * After the criminal charges, several lawyers filed civil suits seeking monetary damages on behalf of dozens of children and their families against the judges and other defendants. They alleged, among other things, that the judges violated their civil rights. * * *

In filings, the judges argued that judicial immunity insulated them from suits. A ruling on the motions is pending. Both judges declined to comment.

Legal experts say the plaintiffs face an uphill battle in piercing the immunity shield. Dating to 1872, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly supported the notion that judges should express their legal convictions without having to worry about personal consequences. In perhaps the most widely cited Supreme Court case on judicial immunity, the court in 1978 rejected a suit filed by a woman against an Indiana judge who had years earlier ordered the woman -- who was then 15 and allegedly mentally impaired -- sterilized without her knowledge.

The story also has some interesting points on the case of the Texas judge (Sharon Keller, the chief judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals), who "declined to keep the courthouse doors open after hours to allow a death-row inmate extra time to file an appeal." He was executed.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on November 12, 2009 10:01 AM
Posted to Courts in general