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.