Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Here, an Ohio trial judge, miffed at the public defender, removed the defender from all 70 of cases before the judge. Because the defender could not deal with these cases, he was fired. The defender sued the judge. he Sixth Circuit was not pleased with the judge’s conduct, but held that he enjoyed judicial immunity. Here are the opening paragraphs of the Sixth Circuit’s opinion (Bright v. Gallia County).
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.