US Federal Circuit Judge Pauline Newman is facing a competency investigation, with concerns raised about her ability to complete simple tasks and her mental state.
An investigative committee of the US Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected Newman's request to transfer the probe to another circuit and ordered her to undergo a neurological evaluation and neuropsychological testing.
Newman has until Friday to say whether she will comply. Last week, Newman sued in district court to halt or transfer the investigation, alleging constitutional violations. Newman has been accused of claiming her devices are being hacked or bugged, and of not complying with court rules at the instruction of a judge who left the court 32 years ago. She has also been reported as having threatened to arrest a court staffer.
Newman's lawyer declined to comment on the new allegations and criticised the committee's decision not to transfer the investigation, raising concerns about whether Newman's colleagues can be impartial. Federal judges are lifetime appointees, and Newman was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1984 to the patent law-focused Federal Circuit, which often hears major cases involving technology and pharmaceutical companies.
At 95 years old, Newman is the oldest sitting federal judge in the United States. Some of her colleagues have expressed concern about her mental competency and believe it is time for her to step down from her lifetime post. Newman has fought back, filing a suit challenging a complaint by a panel of fellow justices that she is no longer able to discharge her duties due to mental or physical disability. She insists that she remains fully capable of handling cases and is as productive as other members of the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
However, on Tuesday, a three-judge judicial committee brushed aside Newman's objections and cited several examples of what they said were her diminished capacities. They ordered Newman to meet with a neurologist to assess whether she suffers from a cognitive impairment and to submit to a full battery of neuropsychological testing. The panel gave her until May 23 to inform the committee whether she will comply or face disciplinary action.
The litigants whose rights are at stake in the cases before this court deserve to have confidence that the judges ruling on their cases do not suffer from a cognitive impairment, the panel said.
Newman's situation is a reminder of the importance of judicial appointments and the need to ensure that judges can carry out their duties effectively, particularly as the population ages.
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