Judge lacks First Amendment right to insult litigants

A judge has no First Amendment right to belittle and berate litigants in her courtroom, the Washington Supreme Court ruled in ordering that a state district judge be suspended for five days without pay.

Numerous complaints had been filed against Judith Raub Eiler, a King County district judge since 1992. The complaints centered on her treatment of pro se litigants (individuals who represent themselves without the services of an attorney). The bulk of Eiler’s caseload consisted of traffic offenses.

The Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct investigated numerous complaints about Eiler’s treatment of litigants in 2008. The commission identified 15 cases of misconduct by Eiler and determined that she had violated several canons of judicial ethics. Among them: that judges should uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary, should avoid the appearance of impropriety, should be polite and forbearing during judicial proceedings and should give each person a full hearing.

Canon 3(A)(3) of the Washington Code of Judicial Conduct says that “judges should be patient, dignified, and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers, and others with whom judges deal in their official capacity.”

Eiler’s objectionable conduct consisted mainly of caustic and intemperate remarks to litigants in her courtroom. She said to one litigant: “We don’t troll for stupid people out of state who speed over the speed limit that they think it is.”

To another she said: “If you drive like an idiot cause you’re late for work, you’re gonna have to pay for it,” adding, “You can see your picture on the headlines of the Seattle Times, stupid young man who shouldn’t be driving.”

And in a case involving a father and son, Eiler said to the father when he answered instead of his son: “He’s not a puppet, you don’t get to make his mouth move. I’m asking him the question.”

The commission concluded that the cases showed a pattern of misconduct and recommended a suspension of 90 days without pay. Eiler had been reprimanded for similar conduct in 2005.

Eiler appealed to the Washington Supreme Court. One of her arguments on appeal was that the First Amendment protected her statements in her courtroom.

The state supreme court rejected this First Amendment defense in its Aug. 5 opinion in In the Matter of Eiler, writing that “judges do not have a right to use rude, demeaning, and condescending speech toward litigants.”

The high court concluded that Eiler’s conduct clearly violated Canon 3(A)(3) because she showed of pattern of impatience and discourtesy to litigants. However, the court found that her pattern of behavior did not violate the other canons regarding the integrity of the judiciary and avoiding the appearance of impropriety.

Because it found that Eiler had violated only one judicial canon, the court reduced her punishment to the five-day unpaid suspension.

19 thoughts on “Judge lacks First Amendment right to insult litigants

  1. I have a contractors board related criminal case, I was before a judge that i made a motion to be heard in front of a represented lawyer whom was acting on my court appointed lawyers behalf ; I asked the court that I have a right to seek a hired lawyer to represent me on the grounds that my court appointed counsel was incompetent. There was a comment from the judge written down by the court transcript reporter, that May in deed have my actual statements misinterpreted by the judge telling the reporter to write down what she interpreted what i said, I need to get a copy ! The 2nd judge in San Mateo county CA is now taking on my proceedings; this last statement i feel is derogatory this judge stated that i seek a state doctor with added derogatory statement “ because i Woolf like to know what medication he is and on “ that is what this judge said ? Is that wrong for a judge to make a comment that may not be necessary/ is it derogatory ?

  2. My daughter went to court for driving on without a license for a dog ticket, the judge accused her of being a criminal wouldn’t listen to her had stuff on her record that wasn’t her ,her sister used her name the judge swore at her and also the person in front of her using the f word this is not ok and put her in jail for two day’s. She told him that those other charges were not her he continued to call her a lier. Horrible it maybe be their court room but how can they get away with that kind of abuse.

  3. When in court the judge accused me of missing 5 days of random testing. Which I shouldn’t have because I did nothing wrong. My kids are in the court room with me, but because I said I didn’t miss five days.. he says are you talking back to me in my court ! Im looking confused then he says oh so you’re going just role your eyes in my court room I don’t like your attitude! I should put you in jail right now because likely you drove here impaired with your children and your impaired in my court room! Again I’m confused one I didn’t roll my eyes. 2. I caught and Uber there 3. It’s 9am why gives him the right to accuse me of being impaired. Like this man is talking at me saying he’ll take me away from my kids and they’ll be put in the system in front of my babies all because I said I didn’t miss five days which was the truth I didn’t. But I know it’s not ok

  4. A cop pulled over when I was just about to take a drink of a just bought cold beer by my boyfriend. The cop ask me for my ID. I told him it was in the house I had to runin and get it. He asked if I was relayed to this person and that person and I said yes that’s my family, then her proceeded with are you just like them? And wrote me as ticket for drinking in public. Now in court I tell the judge I didn’t know that I couldn’t drink in front of my house on the sidewalk. The JUDGE says, ” I can’t help it, if You are IGNORANT to the law!”

    • I don’t believe that judge had the right tio call me ignorant in front of anyone like he did in court that day. It’s demeaning degrading embarrassing and wrong!

      • These people in positions think they are better than every other person on this planet that belongs to everyone equally

      • Calling you ignorant isn’t calling you a bad name. Do you know what the definition is? If the judge said “I cant help it if you dont know what the law is” would’ve been the same thing..You, yourself, stated you didn’t know the law was. That’s literally the definition of ignorant. The judge also can’t help if you’re ignorant to the word ignorant.

  5. The Judges are all corrupt. Especially family court Judges. They destroy families while lining their pockets. It’s disgusting and they will all get their comeuppance during judgement from God. He is the ultimate Judge.

  6. If our judge makes it through a session with out being rude belittling or intimidating the building would fall in. I had small claims court. I paid 150 to have this heard. I had proof that I was right judge kept saying if u did this. I did do that. The guy got rid of my stuff when he found out I was going to court. Judge told me I can’t make him give you what he don’t have. I started to speak again. I paid to be able to speak and the judge screamed at me will you shut up. he does what he wants and nobody’s rights are safe. Its crap.

    • I was told to shut up in court as well but then the judge told me his bailiff would shoot me if I did not comply. My anger came on strongly by demanding to know why a judge could threaten to have his bailiff commit attempted murder and while court was in session as well. That was 2012.

    • Judges don’t listen to “talk”. There’s a thing called hearsay. What judges listen to is evidence. Pictures, texts messages, emails… Things like that Either you have it or you don’t
      You didn’t pay $150 to tell a story, you paid $150 to bring forward a case which should include evidence and clearly you didn’t have it

      • So, she deserves to be spoken to like a dog? I don’t care what he does, he is to respect everyone in his court.
        His position as a judge is a privilege, not a right.

      • Most of the people here are overreacting or have no concept of what the law is.

        However, you also fall into the latter category. Besides the normal allowances for hearsay… in almost all jurisdictions, small claims courts allow hearsay because the burden of evidence is much lower.

  7. I feel the punishment should have stood, judges are bound to a higher standard and her comments are not needed in deciding right and wrong!!

    • I agree. In the town I reside in we have this issue with many of these judges down to them changing your attendance and putting out a warrant for you when you left to bring back the evidence that you were speaking on and was ostracized by the judge as well as having been called a liar.

      • Virginia, this goes on in probably all small town courts. Judges, lawyers, police and often defendants all know each other. Familiarity breeds contempt. I wonder why a defendant can be charged with disrespecting the judge and not the other way around.

        • Even if that is so, which, I too believe it to be, it doesn’t make it right. We hold Judges and court officers above the standards because they are suppose to The fact that they continue to get away with it and are not held accountable is getting old. Filing a formal complaint with the Commission on Judicial Conduct, of your state, is a way to get the said judge’s conduct looked into.

          • In Florida the Judicial Qualifications Commission, (“JQC”), is just as dishonest, unethical and corrupt as the judges they protect from the consequences of their misconduct by summarily DISMISSING valid, well-supported, clearly proven Complaints. Unrepresented litigants like me are treated as second-class citizens. Poor people who can’t afford to pay for a lawyer are routinely DENIED their right of due process and access to the courts. All lawyers have, Zoom capability but many litigants do not, especially the elderly. Once, after I discovered a pre-existing business relationship between the judge and the opposing party, I filed a Motion to Disqualify. She DENIED my motion but sua sponte recused herself anyway. Her Order of Recusal stated: “The court recuses itself due to the blatant lies stated within the motion.” Not only was that a violation of the Rules of Judicial Administration, it was outright defamation! My JQC Complaint was summarily dismissed!

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