High Court Steps In Between Judge, Lawyer

David L. Hudson Jr., American Bar Association Journal, Apr. 8

It’s not unusual for judges or litigators to suspect that personality conflicts are affecting their courtroom interactions. But when a state supreme court is compelled to intercede between judge and lawyer—that is a rarity.

The Supreme Court of Mississippi took such action, ruling that Hinds County Circuit Judge Tomie T. Green be recused from seven cases in which Jackson, Miss.-based Stuart Robinson Jr. is the attorney of record. The court stopped short of Robinson’s request that Green be recused from all of his future cases.

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Robinson sought the recusal after developments in the medical malpractice case of Clein v. Blake.

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After the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff, Robinson sought a certified record for appeal, but some of the exhibits were missing. The judge held a hearing in October 2003 concerning the appeal and missing exhibits. The following exchange, quoted by the Mississippi Supreme Court in its opinion, took place:

Robinson: I’ve got an objection to the original submitted to your honor not being part of the record. I would like it found.

Green: You’ve lost your mind, Mr. Robinson. What’s the next thing that’s lost? You want to find it, is that what you’re saying? Is that what you’re saying, Mr. Robinson?

Robinson: I’m saying I would like it found, naturally because we would like to have it for appeal. I don’t know another way to state it. I think your honor would be as concerned as we are that we don’t have an accurate record for appeal. We did not create this problem.

After the October hearing, Robinson filed a motion seeking Green’s recusal and a transcript of the hearing.

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Green, a black woman, wrote in her first response: “Trial judges of a nontraditional gender and/or hue are not always well-received by attorneys who prefer more traditional jurists. …

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In August 2004, the supreme court asked Green to explain her statement regarding “trial judges of a nontraditional gender and/or hue.” Green responded, “The statement merely attempts to describe to the supreme court the litigation and courtroom atmosphere which attends an African-American female circuit judge. … No specific allegations were directed by this trial court toward the petitioner [Robinson].”

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“In spite of the leeway given judges in the management of their courts, here we find nothing before us which would explain Judge Green’s conduct,” the state high court wrote. “We further find that her continued hostility even beyond the trial to post-trial efforts to obtain an accurate record is such as to cause a reasonable person aware of all the circumstances to question whether Robinson’s clients can get a fair hearing in her court. Additionally, her unsupported and reckless charges of gender and racial prejudice pulled from thin air were totally inappropriate and are further evidence of her hostility.”

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