Federal Judge Pulls His Suit From Courts Run by State
A federal judge in Louisiana has taken control of an accident case involving his car and issued an order transferring evidence about his medical condition to a sealed federal court file.
The medical evidence is being sought by lawyers for former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards of Louisiana. Mr. Edwards is serving a
The former governor contends that the judge, Frank J. Polozola, should not have heard his criminal case in 1999 and 2000 because the judge admitted in his accident suit to being impaired and to using
A lawyer for Mr. Edwards, Nathan Z. Dershowitz, called the intervention in the accident case outrageous.
"The notion that a federal judge can take over and enter orders in his own state case, in which he is a party, is to my knowledge unprecedented and shocking," Mr. Dershowitz said.
Experts in judicial ethics echoed that view. "This is really astonishing," Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University, said. "Polozola cannot be the judge of his own case. That's the first commandment of judicial ethics."
Through a judicial assistant, Judge Polozola, the chief judge of Federal District Court in Baton Rouge, declined to comment.
"He has a policy of not speaking to the media in any case pending before him," the aide, Jackie Gaudin, said.
Mr. Dershowitz said Mr. Edwards would appeal the judge's ruling.
In the accident case, filed in 1998, Judge Polozola, 62, sought compensation for a "serious physical injury" that caused him mental anguish and "impairment of function." In the trial in 2000, Mr. Edwards's lawyers wrote in filings, the judge engaged in "erratic, even paranoid" behavior. The accident case was settled in 2001, and testimony from the judge, his psychiatrist and his psychologist was sealed.
Mr. Edwards's lawyers, in challenging his conviction, recently sought to unseal those records. That led to a request from federal prosecutors last week that Judge Polozola take control of the state court case to avoid "irreparable injury to a national interest."
Twenty minutes after prosecutors filed that request, Judge Polozola ordered the evidence in his accident case transferred to federal court and sealed.
The United States attorney in New Orleans, James Letten, declined to comment, citing the pending federal case. In court papers, prosecutors said Judge Polozola had handled the Edwards case evenhandedly.
Harry Rosenberg, one of Mr. Letten's predecessors as United States attorney, said the prosecutors and judge were on untested ground.
"I have never seen that sort of situation before, but I've only been practicing for 30 years," Mr. Rosenberg said. "It's beyond the cutting edge of jurisprudence and legal maneuvering."
Steven Lubet, who teaches legal ethics at Northwestern University, said Judge Polozola's case involved a difficult balance.
"What's at issue here," Professor Lubet said, "is the judge's right to medical privacy versus the defendant's right to a fair proceeding."
But he added: "What you want is a judge who can dispassionately weigh those issues. Judge Polozola is not that judge."
Copyright 2004, The New York Times Company
From: The New York Times, April 3, 2004, http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/03/politics/03JUDG.html?ex=1224993600&en=e35dc7154f51a513&ei=5070, accessed 10/21/08. Adam Liptak is national legal correspondent for The New York Times. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C.