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Fair Courts E-Lert: Federal Judge Pulled from Case After Appeals Court Finds Indications He Prejudged Plaintiff’s Claims

This Fair Courts E-Lert highlights a story about the removal of a federal judge from a sex discrimination case after an appeals court found he prejudged the plaintiff’s claims, how tenants’ rights activists are protesting eviction proceedings amid the pandemic, and more.

Last Updated: February 12, 2021
Published: July 15, 2021

Event: Behind the Bench: The Treatment and Selection of Law Clerks

This two-day remote event focuses on the treatment and selection of law clerks within the judiciary. The judiciary isn’t only a legal institution, it’s also an employer—and clerkships are often a pipeline to leadership positions within the law. This event looks at two issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion within the judiciary: First, several former law clerks have come forward about experiencing sexual or other forms of harassment while in the employ of the judiciary, including the lack of institutional support to address such allegations. Second, current law clerk hiring practices have led to clerk classes that lack racial, ethnic, gender, and experiential diversity. This event will look at the current system and the hurdles to achieving reform, and consider what steps the judiciary, law schools, and other stakeholders should take to ensure a safe, respectful, and inclusive workplace with the judiciary. 

On Thursday, March 4, at 1–2:15pm ET, a panel will address sexual and other forms of harassment in the judiciary. On Friday, March 5, at 1–2:15pm ET, a panel will discuss diversity and law clerk hiring. This event is co-sponsored by the Brennan Center for Justice, the National Women’s Law Center, the NYU Law Review, and the NYU American Constitution Society.  Register here.

Federal Judge Pulled from Case After Appeals Court Finds Indications He Prejudged Plaintiff’s Claims

U.S. District Court Judge Lynn N. Hughes was reassigned from a sex discrimination case after a panel of judges from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals determined there were indications he prejudged the plaintiff’s claims.

The plaintiff, Audrey Miller, sued Sam Houston State University and the University of Houston System for sex discrimination, retaliation, and a hostile work environment after she was removed from a faculty committee and not offered tenure or a salary increase after disagreements with her colleagues. Her case was heard before Hughes, who dismissed her claims.

Miller appealed, prompting a decision by the Fifth Circuit reinstating her claims and assigning the case to a different judge. In its decision, the court said that Hughes indicated a “prejudgment” of Miller’s claims from the outset of the case. He reportedly told Miller’s counsel he would “crush” the case, observed that “there is nothing that [Miller] didn’t complain about,” and made “several other off-key remarks.”

Hughes has a history of being removed from cases for inappropriate remarks. In 2018, he was reassigned from a case by the Fifth Circuit after he said to the female prosecutor assigned to the case, “It was a lot simpler when you guys wore dark suits, white shirts, and navy ties. We didn’t let girls do it in the old days.”

Tenants’ Rights Activists Protest Evictions

Tenants’ rights activists are protesting in virtual eviction courts as the Covid-19 pandemic leaves many economically vulnerable people at risk of eviction.

In Kansas City, Missouri, activists joined the virtual court room of the Jackson County Circuit Judge Jack Grate during the hearing of a 64-year-old woman who owed $2,790 in back rent and fees for her apartment, shouting “This is not justice. This is violence,” and “Judge Grate, you are making people homeless! You are killing people!” Judge Grate attempted to ignore the protestors but ultimately ended the hearing.

Activists in other states have also been protesting for rent relief. In Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Autonomous Tenants Union has been organizing marches and robocalls to landlords. And in Brooklyn, New York, activists are organizing “stoop courts,” in which they gather in front of tenants’ homes to appear in virtual eviction hearings as a group.

These protests have continued despite President Joe Biden’s extension of the national eviction moratorium to March 31 because the moratorium contains several exceptions that allow tenants to be evicted for reasons other than nonpayment.

Kentucky Lawmakers Override Governor’s Veto of Bill Changing Venue for Lawsuits Against the State

Republican lawmakers in Kentucky voted to override Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of a bill changing which judges hear lawsuits filed against the state.

The bill, HB 3, requires lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of state laws, executive orders, administrative regulations, or cabinet orders to be filed in the county where the plaintiff resides, as opposed to Franklin County (the state capital), where former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and other state legislators have complained that the judges are too liberal.

In its original form, HB 3 would have created randomly drawn panels of three judges from anywhere in the state to hear lawsuits against the state government. It was amended in the state Senate after Kentucky’s chief justice testified against the bill, calling it an “unconstitutional invasion” and “Rube Goldberg bill.”

Building on a years-long trend documented by the Brennan Center, lawmakers in other states, such as Alaska, Indiana, Montana, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, are also considering bills that would politicize or weaken state courts.