The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on Wednesday suspended Judge Pauline Newman from hearing new cases amid a deepening clash over the 96-year-old jurist's mental competence to serve on the bench.
A council of judges on the Washington, D.C., court unanimously said Newman had failed to cooperate with an investigation into her fitness and barred her from hearing new cases for at least one year or until she sits for court-ordered medical examinations.
"We are acutely aware that this is not a fitting capstone to Judge Newman's exemplary and storied career," the council said, but added it had no choice when "a judge of this Court is no longer capable of performing the duties of her judicial office."
Such a public and contentious internal dispute over competency is highly unusual in the federal judiciary. Newman has defended her fitness, citing the opinions of two doctors, and filed a lawsuit in a separate Washington court seeking to move or halt the investigation.
Newman's attorney Greg Dolin said on Wednesday that the council was "ignoring data or information or opinions that are inconsistent with its predetermined goals and outcomes," and that the judge would challenge the order and continue to press her claims in court.
A representative for the Federal Circuit declined to comment.
Newman, a highly-respected figure in patent law and a prominent dissenter, was appointed to the patent-focused Federal Circuit by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. The court's chief judge said in orders made public in April that Newman showed signs of cognitive and physical impairment and accused her of refusing to cooperate with inquiries into her mental health.
Court employees also described "memory loss, confusion, paranoia and angry rants" by Newman, according to documents released in August.
Newman's attorneys said in a response to the council made public on Wednesday that the committee investigating her fitness was "interested in one thing and one thing only - keeping Judge Newman off the bench via the exercise of raw power."
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