U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III–who famously oversaw Paul Manafort‘s trial in the Eastern District of Virginia last summer–won’t be facing disciplinary action over the way he treated Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s prosecutors during that closely-watched endeavor.
A four-page court order filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit by Chief Judge Roger Gregory reveals that Ellis was the subject of four distinct judicial complaints–but stops short of admonishing Ellis over his often caustic remarks to government attorneys.
Although not mentioned by name in the order, a source confirmed Ellis’s identity to BuzzFeed News.
“Each of these four complaints was filed by a different complainant, each of who apparently read or heard media reports regarding a criminal matter tried before the district judge,” the filing notes. “That criminal matter ultimately resulted in the conviction of the defendant.”
One complaint read as follows:
[A]ccording to the reports, lost his temper, and made personal accusations against prosecuting attorneys in the … case. The presiding judge was in violation of Canons 2 and 3 [of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges], which require impartiality, decorum, and generally being polite and treating everyone with respect. Losing temper, or attacking motivations of officers of the court is not acceptable, particularly for federal judiciary. I submit that, in this era of disintegration of all norms of civilized conduct, the federal judiciary, of all entities, should insist on strict adherence to norms of appropriate conduct.
Another complaint said that Ellis’s “demeanor and comments in the course of the trial clarly makes [sic] a mockery of the Federal judiciary, engenders disrespect and should be … embarrassing.”
While criticizing the judge’s alleged lack of respect for the prosecution, that same complaint also claimed that Ellis “has early onset dementia.”
Another complaint accused Ellis of “a clear pattern of unethical behavior involving a lack of impartiality” while arguing that Ellis “engaged in bullying behavior, disrespectful conduct, partisan rulings and statements, undignified comments, intemperate conduct and other demeaning conduct” toward the government.
“The most reasonable explanation,” the third complaint assumed, “is that [Ellis] deliberately put his thumb on the scales of justice for partisan reasons” while also speculating that maybe Ellis was simply corrupted or otherwise illegally influenced.
A fourth complaint accused Judge Ellis of engaging in political activity for his “demonstrably palpable hostile position against the Government.”
Judge Gregory was entirely unconvinced by the evidence marshaled against Ellis:
Reviewing the relevant transcripts in the case, and considering the district judge’s remarks in their overall context, the record does not support the conclusion that [Ellis] engaged in misconduct. One might say that the judge may have been injudicious in his tone or choice of words, but one cannot say that his comments were so discourteous, uncivil, or “bullying” as to “transcend … the expected rough-and-tumble of litigation.” The judge was sometimes strident with counsel, to be sure, and especially the prosecution. But judges have wide latitude to manage cases in the way that seems best to them.
Gregory did offer a bit of gentle chiding over Ellis’s occasional commentary during the case.
“To be sure, especially in a high-profile, politically-charged trial, a judge should take care — with the precepts of Canon 5 of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges in mind — to avoid careless remarks that could foreseeably be interpreted as partisan,” the order cautioned.
Gregory also took an opportunity to dismiss the insults against Ellis:
The record does not support the existence of an improper influence upon the judge, mental disability, or “early onset dementia.”
[Image via Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images]
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