It’s hard to sue a judge

June 3

A judge may be high-handed or oppressive in court, and may even take unwarranted actions against you are your attorneys, but don’t assume you can seek redress in court.  As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit explained in Bright v. Gallia County, it’s hard to overcome the near-absolute judicial immunity enjoyed by judges.  The court’s opinion begins:

In this case, there is no debate that Judge David Dean Evans failed to meet the minimum expectations for members of the judiciary: He overreacted to attorney Robert Bright’s criticisms and inappropriately removed Bright from  nearly seventy felony cases. The judge’s high-handed actions caused Bright great hardship, but litigation seeking to hold Judge Evans personally liable is not the solution. Generally, we rely upon the judges further up the judicial hierarchy to review and correct the rulings of lower  courts. Only in a few circumstances do we allow lawsuits against individual judges to proceed, and for good reason. The specter of facing a lawsuit naturally encourages overly timid judging  and presents a direct threat to judicial independence. While Judge Evans’s conduct was worthy of censure, it does not fit within one of the exceptions to absolute judicial immunity; thus, we must REVERSE the district court’s denial of immunity.

Unfortunately for Bright, our case law also requires us to side against him in his lawsuit against the Gallia County Board of Commissioners (“the Board”), the Gallia County Public Defender Commission (“the Commission”), and the Gallia County Criminal Defense Corporation (“the Corporation”). Under Mezibov v. Allen, 411 F.3d 712 (6th Cir. 2005), the First Amendment offers no protection to an attorney for his speech in court. Id. at 716. Without such protection, Bright cannot state a valid claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and we must AFFIRM the district court’s dismissal

Jonathan H. Adler teaches courses in constitutional, administrative, and environmental law at the Case Western University School of Law, where he is the inaugural Johan Verheij Memorial Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Business Law and Regulation.
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Jonathan H. Adler · June 3