Federal judges represent some of the best and brightest minds the legal profession has to offer. Although there are exceptions, federal judges generally have incredible credentials and adhere to the highest ethical standards.
In contrast, state court judges tend to be icky. When you read in the news about a judge who sexually harassed a secretary, got arrested for drunk driving, or used a penis pump behind the bench, the odds are high that it will be a state rather than federal judge.
When a former state judge gets confirmed to a federal judgeship — as is increasingly the case, since state court judges are often “safe” picks in these politically charged times — does she shed her icky ways?
Not necessarily. Consider the tale of Judge Deborah L. Cook, a member of the Sixth Circuit since 2003. From Muckraker/CIR:
A federal judge identified by the Center for Investigative Reporting for making campaign contributions while on the bench has apologized for violating the judicial code of conduct.
Judge Deborah L. Cook of Ohio made two political donations after she was appointed by President Bush to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003. A CIR report and story for Salon.com on Oct. 31 revealed that both Cook and a Clinton-appointed judge, Dean D. Pregerson of California, had apparently given campaign contributions, though federal judges are prohibited from doing so.
A pretty dumb-ass mistake. The limitations upon political activity by members of the judicial branch are familiar even to rookie law clerks. It’s something you learn about at clerk orientation.
Ah, orientation — that’s where Judge Cook lays the blame for her mistake:
“I violated this proscription against federal judges making political contributions early in what I hope will be a long tenure,” Cook wrote in her letter of apology [to Chief Judge Danny Boggs], which was filed with Judge Boggs’ order [resolving the complaint]. “Though not an excuse, my misstep here resulted from habit and a lack of awareness of the prohibition.”
Cook wrote that she was used to making contributions as a state judge. According to her letter, she did not attend the “New Judges School” after she was confirmed as a federal judge and “thus missed being alerted there to the federal canon.” The “Baby Judges School,” as it is often called by judges, is a non-mandatory training and orientation for newly appointed judges.
“Baby Judges School”: Ignore it at your peril.
A little bit more, after the jump.
This next part is especially embarrassing:
In December 2005, Cook gave $800 to former Sen. Mike DeWine, only to have the money returned. It was from the senator’s campaign, Cook wrote, that she first learned that federal judges cannot contribute.
It probably pained Senator DeWine’s campaign office to have to return that money. Maybe it could have saved him from electoral defeat.
As for the other judge accused of violations, Judge Dean Pregerson (C.D. Cal.), the claim is that the contributions were made by his wife, from a joint checking account. But here is what’s odd about that defense:
Federal records show a $1,000 donation from Pregerson to Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware in 2002, listing Pregerson’s former law firm as his occupation. Previous donations in 1999 and 2000 to other candidates listed Pregerson as the donor and “federal judge” as his occupation.
But it looks like Judge Pregerson won’t be disciplined:
Chief Judge Mary M. Schroeder of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals “made an inquiry” into the subject and accepted Pregerson’s explanation that his wife had made the donations through a joint checking account, 9th Circuit spokesman David Madden told CIR.
This is hardly surprising. Chief Judge Mary Schroeder isn’t exactly a disciplinarian. After all, she’s the one who initially gave the ethically-challenged Judge Manuel Real a clean bill of health (before the Ninth Circuit’s Judicial Council, after conducting a more thorough investigation, reached a contrary conclusion).
Also, the liberal Chief Judge Schroeder probably wouldn’t be inclined to come down hard on a liberal judge for making a donation to a Democratic candidate. Especially when that judge’s father — Judge Harry Pregerson, a colleague on the Ninth Circuit — is one of her allies on the left wing of that court.
P.S. We heard, some time ago, that Judge Dean Pregerson had a law clerk vacancy in chambers. Does anyone know (1) if this vacancy still exists and (2) why Judge Pregerson has (or had) a clerkship opening?
Judge Apologizes [Muckraker / Center for Investigative Reporting]
Deborah L. Cook [FJC]
Dean D. Pregerson [FJC]
In re: Complaint of Judicial Misconduct [Muckraker (PDF) via How Appealing]