5th Circuit revokes federal judge’s lifetime ban of prosecutor from his courtroom
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A federal judge who made “demeaning” and “inappropriate” remarks in the presence of a female federal prosecutor has gotten another scolding after permanently banning her from his courtroom.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at New Orleans lifted the lifetime ban in a July 26 per curiam opinion. A conservative appeals judge, Judge James C. Ho, wrote separately to note his disapproval of the ban, imposed by U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes of the Southern District of Texas in Houston.
Hughes made the remarks in a prior case, United States v. Swenson. He said: “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.”
The U.S. attorney’s office had contended that the remarks were directed at the female prosecutor. Hughes later told the Houston Chronicle that he was referring to FBI agents in his courtroom. In any event, the 5th Circuit said in a July 2018 opinion, Hughes’ remarks were “demeaning, inappropriate and beneath the dignity of a federal judge.”
“Now, fast-forward to the present case,” Ho wrote. “That same district judge issued a verbal order from the bench, excluding that same AUSA from his courtroom—not only in this case but in all future cases, as well. By all accounts, the district judge issued the order to punish the AUSA for the USAO’s appellate briefing in Swenson.”
“But be that as it may, it’s hard to imagine a less persuasive way for a judge to rebut the charge that he discriminated against a female attorney than by expelling her from his courtroom—not just in one case but in every case that she may bring for the rest of her career,” Ho wrote.
The new case is United States v. Rodriguez. The per curiam opinion said Hughes had erred when he failed to make a specific finding that the female prosecutor acted in bad faith before stating that she was permanently barred from his courtroom.
The female prosecutor was Tina Ansari, Law.com reports. Hughes had banned her from the courtroom during a January 2019 conference in the new Rodriguez case, according to the government’s 5th Circuit brief.
Hughes had told Ansari, “You may be excused,” in two pretrial conferences. The second time, Ansari asked whether she was also being excused from the upcoming trial, and if so, why.
Hughes said he was excusing Ansari for trial but did not give her a reason why. Ansari continued to press for a reason.
“I’m assigned to this case by the U.S. attorney’s office. I am co-lead counsel, … and I would like to have a reason why I am being excused.” Ansari said.
“I understand you would like that. You will be disappointed,” Hughes responded.
“I’ll be disappointed by your reason?” Ansari asked.
“No, because you are not going to have my reasons,” Hughes responded.
The U.S. attorney observing the proceedings from the gallery approached the bench and spoke with Hughes. The judge indicated that he was displeased with the 5th Circuit’s opinion in Swenson, and that he thought that it was the result of lies and misrepresentations in the prosecution’s Swenson brief, the government said.
The Swenson case is not the only time that Hughes ran into trouble with the 5th Circuit. The appeals court has also kicked Hughes off of five other cases, the 5th Circuit said in an earlier opinion.
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