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Federal Judge To Face Rare Review Over Controversial Remarks

The story of U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Edith Jones involves a controversial speech to the Federalist Society, calls of racism, last-ditch efforts to stop an execution and now a rare formal disciplinary review by the Judicial Council of the District of Columbia Circuit.

The case has been bubbling for the past couple of weeks. It's complicated, but interesting, so we'll tell you about it in chronological order.

It essentially started last week with a complaint of judicial misconduct filed by several members of prominent civil rights organizations including the League of United Latin American Citizens and the NAACP Austin Chapter, as well as law professors. The complaint alleges that in a February speech to the University of Pennsylvania chapter of the Federalist Society, Jones said certain "racial groups like African Americans and Hispanics are predisposed to crime" and are prone to more violent and "heinous" crimes than other ethnicities.

Jones allegedly said that capital punishment was a service to capital-case defendants because it allowed them to make peace with God "in the moment before imminent execution."

As the speech continued, she said capital defendants who claim "mental retardation" are abusing the system and that Mexican nationals "would prefer to be on death row in the United States rather than in prison in Mexico."

The complaint said Jones' comments undermined the "public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, and creates a strong appearance of impropriety."

The complaint came up in the case of Elroy Chester, who was put to death last night in Texas. As the Dallas Morning News reports, Chester, who was convicted of raping two teens and killing their uncle, asked his appeal to be heard by a different set of judges that did not include Jones.

"On Tuesday, the Fifth Circuit referred Chester's latest appeal to a different three judge panel, so Jones would not participate in the decision. Here's the ruling. The Court did not stay Chester's scheduled execution," the Morning News reports.

The Houston Chronicle reports that Ramiro Ibarra, who was found guilty of raping and murdering a 16-year-old girl in 1987, is taking a similar tack, asking Jones to recuse herself from hearing his request for a stay of execution. The paper reports:

"Attorneys for Ibarra argue that Jones referred specifically to his case when she allegedly said Mexican nationals would prefer a U.S. death sentence to incarceration in their own country, where the death penalty is banned.

"'The public statements made by Judge Jones individually and cumulatively create the appearance of bias and partiality against Mr. Ibarra,' said Ibarra's attorneys in their motion. 'By personally maligning Mr. Ibarra ... Jones has demonstrated her complete unfitness to serve as a judge on his case.'"

Jones' case took a rare turn yesterday, when Chief Justice John Roberts granted a transfer of a judicial conduct proceeding from the Fifth Circuit court to the Judicial Council of the District of Columbia.

As The Times Picayune reports, it means that court will consider the complaint at a time to be determined. The Houston Chronicle reports that this is only "one of a handful of times in U.S. history that a federal circuit judge has been the subject of a public judicial misconduct complaint and a formal disciplinary review."

The review, reports the Chronicle, will be secret.

The Times Picayune reports that Jones has not commented on the case.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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