Judicial Watch Victory: Sixth Circuit Judicial Council Vacates Order Punishing Federal Judge Who Pushed for Timely Justice in Social Security Benefits Cases
(Washington, DC) — Judicial Watch announced today that, as part of the settlement of a historic federal lawsuit, the Sixth Circuit Judicial Council is vacating an unprecedented and entirely unwarranted order by a disciplinary panel that found U.S. District Court Judge John R. Adams committed misconduct by objecting to undergoing a psychiatric examination and ordered him to submit to the examination.
In September 2017, Judicial Watch filed a federal lawsuit challenging the discipline on behalf of Akron, Ohio-based Judge Adams (The Hon. John R. Adams v. The Judicial Council of the Sixth Circuit, et al. (No. 17-1984)). The Sixth Circuit oversees and hears appeals from federal trial courts in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
On August 14, 2017, the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability of the Judicial Conference of the United States upheld an administrative ruling by the Sixth Circuit Judicial Council finding that Judge Adams committed misconduct when he issued a show cause order to a magistrate judge who missed a deadline in a Social Security benefits case. Judge Adams had long been concerned about the efficient use and supervision of his court’s magistrates and the timeliness of magistrates’ decisions, particularly in Social Security cases. To reduce delays in such cases, he began issuing orders setting deadlines for magistrates’ “reports and recommendations” – analyses by magistrates on how a judge should rule.
The magistrates resisted Judge Adams’ efforts and, when one magistrate missed a deadline, Judge Adams issued the show cause order. After the magistrate explained that the missed deadline resulted from a simple calendaring error, Judge Adams accepted the explanation and placed both the order and the explanation under seal.
Some of Judge Adams’ colleagues on the Ohio Federal District Court filed an ethics complaint claiming that Judge Adams’ deadlines and show cause order caused the magistrates to give priority to his cases over theirs. As a result, Judge Adams was subjected to a years-long ethics investigation so vengeful and vitriolic that even his mental health was questioned. Despite the complete absence of any medical evidence suggesting he suffered from a mental disability, Judge Adams was ordered to undergo a psychiatric examination, including a three-hour battery of psychological testing. When he objected, he was accused of undermining the investigation.
In addition to his efforts to ensure timely processing of Social Security appeals, Judge Adams also has spoken out numerous times about the Ohio Federal District Court’s wasteful use of taxpayer dollars, such as spending of thousands of dollars to purchase iPads for judges and other court staff while simultaneously threatening cutbacks and furloughs for essential staff, such as probation officers. He also questioned reimbursing judges for travel expenses incurred attending ceremonial portrait unveilings of their colleagues.
No case had ever decided whether a sitting federal judge can be compelled to undergo a psychiatric examination, but the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability of the Judicial Conference of the United States held it was misconduct for Judge Adams to object to this unprecedented demand. It also ordered him to endure two years of monitoring by a judicial committee and threatened to reassign his current case load and ban him from being assigned new cases.
After over four years of federal litigation, including an appeal, the Judicial Council agreed to finally vacate the unprecedented orders targeting Judge Adams
“The courts are not above the law,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Judge Adams is a fine jurist committed to the highest standards of judicial ethics and has served with distinction for over 19 years. No other federal judge should ever have to go through what Judge Adams went through. That the bureaucracy of the federal judiciary retreated from its abuse of him is a remarkable victory for the rule of law and our constitutional system.”