A panel of federal judges today dismissed disciplinary proceedings brought against U.S. District Court Judge Miles Lord by the A.H. Robins Co. and three of its top executives.
The panel's terse decision said questions raised by the two misconduct complaints were resolved in November when a separate panel of judges struck from the official record a tongue-lashing that Lord had given the executives during a February 1984 product liability trial involving the Richmond, Va., firm's Dalkon Shield intrauterine device.
Former attorney general Ramsey Clark, who represented Lord, said today's decision supported his argument that it was inappropriate for Robins to try to use a 1980 judicial misconduct statute to complain that Lord had "grossly abused his office" when he required the three executives to appear in his courtroom last February.
"Our grave concern was that all of this corporate power could be used to put a judge on trial rather than the defendant . . . , " Clark said. "But in terms of both truth and justice, Lord has prevailed."
Robins had attempted to move against the judge on two fronts. In addition to filing the misconduct complaints, it had challenged Lord's signature on settlement agreements it had reached in the cases that had prompted Lord's speech. In November, a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to strike Lord's comments and said he had "crossed the line separating permissible judicial comments from impermissible public accusations" by delivering the blistering attack.
Today's ruling was made by the judicial council of the 8th Circuit, made up of five U.S. district judges and nine U.S. appeals court judges, which received recommendations from an investigative panel that heard testimony in a two-day disciplinary hearing last summer. The investigative panel and the judicial council said the disciplinary complaints became moot after the 8th Circuit ruled. "All relief deemed appropriate has been granted," today's ruling said.
Robins officials said the decision was expected and reiterated their satisfaction with the appeals court's decision to strike Lord's speech from the record.
In that speech, Lord accused Robins' officials of practicing "corporate irresponsibility at its meanest" by not pulling the Dalkon Shield off the market sooner than it did. The shield has not been sold in the United States since June 1974.
Lord, in his speech, described the device as a "deadly depth charge in their [women's] wombs."
Since Lord's speech, Robins has begun a national advertising campaign urging women who are still wearing the device to have it removed at Robins' expense.
It has also attempted to have the remaining product liability suits involving the device consolidated into a single case.