Judge Lynn N. Hughes

Being a federal judge is like being a professional boxer: you have to know when it’s time to hang up the robe. (Yes, pare, I’m talking to you, Congressman Pacquiao.)

How does a federal judge know when it’s time to retire (not just senior status, but complete and total retirement)? Well, how about when he starts making bizarre, offensive, and racially charged comments — on the record?

Regular readers of Above the Law are familiar with Judge Lynn Hughes (S.D. Tex.). We’ve written about him a few times in these pages. We most recently covered him when he got benchslapped by the Fifth Circuit for his failure (or refusal) to recognize a fried chicken joke as a slur against African-Americans.

Now Judge Hughes stands accused of racial insensitivity once again, this time in the form of a recusal motion in the case of Shah v. Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The plaintiff, Jitendra “JT” Shah, is ethnically Indian — South Asian, not Native American — and a U.S. citizen. He was born in India and is Hindu in his religion. He is suing his former employer, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, for employment discrimination, alleging that he was discriminated against based on race, national origin, and/or religion.

That’s really all you need to know. Let’s go to the transcript of the second pre-trial conference. It was conducted ex parte, without Shah’s counsel present; she informed Judge Hughes’s chambers in advance that she was ill and unable to attend, but Judge Hughes went ahead anyway. From the transcript (all emphases added in the recusal motion):

And you’d probably win, at least before Judge Hughes; he doesn’t like all these “diversity directors” running around with their cans of paint. Of course, we’ll see what the Supreme Court has to say about affirmative action later this Term.

Note how Judge Hughes seems to be more hostile towards the plaintiff, J.T. Shah, than even the defendant’s counsel. The lawyer for Texas doesn’t quite go along with the judge’s characterization of Shah as “difficult,” so the judge finds a way to rephrase what he doesn’t like about Shah (“obnoxiousness”).

And then things get, well, a bit weird:

First, on the “that’s where we came from” line of reasoning, doesn’t that make us all African-American?

Second, on the swastika business… whah??? Yes, the symbol has some Hindu roots, but what does that have to do with anything?

UPDATE (3:25 PM): There’s an interesting debate going on in the comments about whether Indians actually are Caucasians. Whether they are or aren’t, though, isn’t really relevant to this case; what’s germane is what the recusal motion points out:

[I]n context, Judge Hughes’ statement that Indians are “Caucasian,” and not a distinct racial minority, would cause a reasonable person to believe that Judge Hughes would not comply with the prevailing law that Indians are a protected class under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. See, e.g., Arora v. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., 294 Fed. Appx. 159 (5th Cir. 2008) (employee born in India in protected class under Title VII); Thomas v. Trico Prods. Corp, 256 Fed. Appx. 658 (5th Cir. 2007) (employee of Indian ancestry and national origin in protected class under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981).

Here’s another example of Judge Hughes showing more hostility towards the plaintiff than even Texas’s defense counsel:

Hmm…. I wonder how Judge Hughes might rule on such a motion?

One of the readers who sent us the recusal motion was not completely shocked by Judge Hughes’s comments. We asked him how he heard about the motion and what he knows about Judge Hughes. Here’s what he shared:

I know the Plaintiff’s attorney in the case — Jo Miller. She is courageous.

I have never appeared before [Judge Hughes]…. But I understand that Judge Hughes was previously known for lots of “off-the-record” conferences in which he would voice his opinions on race and national origin. Here, none of the transcribed statements by this judge surprise me. That he now voices those opinions on the record does.

I hope your blog will continue to shine light on this judge.

Oh, don’t worry, we will. The next time Judge Hughes makes a racially insensitive comment, we’ll be all over it like Elie on a bucket of extra crispy.

P.S. I received permission from Elie to make that joke BECAUSE I’M NOT A RACIST.

(You can read the full recusal motion on the next page.)


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