A federal judge has a job for life. They are generally more professional and more careful than a state district judge. But, not always. Judge Lynn Hughes of the Southern District of Texas is not so careful. Sitting in Houston, he was just recently criticized by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for not recognizing an obviously discriminatory remark in a case. See my prior post discussing Judge Hughes here.
Now, Judge Hughes has attracted further attention. In a discrimination case, he has been asked to recuse himself. Recusal in the litigation world is the nuclear option. Rarely, very rarely does a lawyer seek recusal. Since, if the lawyer fails, s/he will be stuck with one unhappy judge.
In Shah v. Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice, No. 12-CV-02126, the plaintiff’s lawyer has asked Judge Hughes to recuse himself. The plaintiff’s lawyer, Jo Miller, came down ill just before a hearing before Judge Hughes. Ms. Miller could not attend the hearing. She notified the court. But, the Judge held the hearing anyway.
At the hearing, he discussed her illness briefly, saying Ms. Miller needs a new doctor. He discussed the merits of the case, even though Ms. Miller was absent. He engaged in ex parte discussions about the case, a breach of judicial ethics. He poked fun at directors of diversity, suggesting directors of diversity should just hire people based on ability and paint workers a different color. He questioned the need for a director of diversity.
The Judge suggested that the plaintiff, Mr. Shah, while not disciplined at work, had been "obnoxious" in some way during his employment. The judge said that would make him similar to every state worker.
The Judge asked about the plaintiff’s race. The attorney for the state said he was perhaps Indian. Judge Hughes responded that the plaintiff is Caucasian then? The attorney for the state said no, he is Indian. The Judge insisted, they are Caucasian, apparently meaning all people from India.
The Judge mentioned the swastika symbol came from India. The Aryans came from India. He said "they" act a lot like Germans.
The Judge mentioned that Eleanor Roosevelt said staffs of all one color performed better.
The Judge then told the Defendant’s attorney it was time he moved for summary judgment.
In another recent case, Judge Hughes noticed the two lawyers representing the plaintiff were Vietnamese-American. Apparently just because the two lawyers looked Asian, he commented that the two lawyers should move to North Korea and practice labor law there.
Federal judges are not perfect and we should not expect perfection. But, to discuss the merits of the case with one lawyer while the other lawyer is absent is too much. To profess controversial views on race is much too much. See Above the Law’s take on Judge Hughes’ latest incident.