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Chief Judges’ Message: Shut Up

Publication Date: 
October 17, 2011
San Francisco Chronicle Blog
Bob Egelko

Professor Deborah Rhode expressed her opinion on a federal appeals court judge's uncharacteristic behavior during a drug case. The San Francisco Chronicle's Bob Egelko filed the following report:

A federal appeals court judge becomes the court’s chief judge because of seniority, not diplomatic skills, a fact that was painfully obvious recently in a pair of appellate circuits.

In New Orleans last month, the entire Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was debating a drug case when Judge James Dennis took over the questioning and started hammering a prosecution lawyer abut weaknesses Dennis saw in his case. After awhile, the court’s chief Judge, Edith Jones, broke in and said Dennis had monopolized seven minutes of the hearing.


"It was extremely unusual and lacking in judicial temperament,” said Deborah Rhode, a Stanford law professor who teaches legal ethics. On the other hand, she said, based on Jones’ reputation, such behavior ”might not be wholly unexpected.”