The panel of federal court judges who removed the judge handling the stop and frisk case has denied a request to let her defend herself [PDF] and in doing so, clarified [PDF] that they "did not intend to imply in our previous order that Judge Scheindlin engaged in misconduct."
Two weeks ago, three judges for the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit—John M. Walker, Jr., José A. Cabranes, and Barrington D. Parker—granted a motion from City attorneys that delayed the stop and frisk reforms Judge Scheindlin ordered in August, and took the extraordinary step of removing her from the case. Citing statements Judge Scheindlin made to the media and what some attorneys would later call routine conversation in court, the three judges ruled that Judge Scheindlin "ran afoul of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges."
The judges' ruling angered proponents for stop and frisk reform and puzzled the legal community. Lawyers for the City and the NYPD, who had never previously suggested Judge Scheindlin was impartial, filed another motion requesting that the panel wipe away Judge Scheindlin's landmark decision entirely on the basis of her supposed bias against the police. Attorneys and legal professors rallied to her defense, filing a motion requesting that the decision to replace her be reviewed and the judge be allowed to defend herself.
Last night's ruling tempers the court's previous suggestion that the judge was biased. "We do not find that there was any judicial misconduct or violation of any ethical duty," the judges write, after pointing out that when judges speak with the media, they "run the risk that the resulting stories may contribute to the appearance of partiality."
Comments made by unnamed sources in Jeffrey Toobin's New Yorker piece, the judges write, show how "situations can get out of control."
"We recognize that it is frustrating to work extensively on a case that is later reassigned," the judges write. "Particularly for a longserving and distinguished one such as Judge Scheindlin."
NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman said in a statement, "While we are disappointed that the court did not restore the case to Judge Scheindlin's docket and that it did not lift the suspension of the case, we are pleased that the court undid some of the harm of the prior ruling and reiterated that Judge Scheindlin's decision in the stop-and-frisk cases remains intact pending appeal."
The Second Circuit panel has yet to rule on last Friday's midnight filing from the City requesting that Judge Scheindlin's original decision be vacated.