Should Judges Have Absolute Or Qualified Immunity?

Judicial Immunity

Stump V. Sparkman, Should Judges Have Absolute Or Qualified Immunity?, Further Readings

A judge’s complete protection from personal liability for exercising judicial functions.

Judicial immunity protects judges from liability for monetary damages in civil court, for acts they perform pursuant to their judicial function. A judge generally has IMMUNITY from civil damages if he or she had jurisdiction over the subject matter in issue. This means that a judge has immunity for acts relating to cases before the court, but not for acts relating to cases beyond the court’s reach. For example, a criminal court judge would not have immunity if he or she tried to influence proceedings in a juvenile court.

Some states codify the judicial immunity doctrine in statutes. Most legislatures, including Congress, let court decisions govern the issue.

Judicial immunity is a common-law concept, derived from judicial decisions. It originated in the courts of medieval Europe to discourage persons from attacking a court decision by suing the judge. Losing parties were required instead to take their complaints to an appellate court. The idea of protecting judges from civil damages was derived from this basic tenet and served to solidify the independence of the judiciary. It became widely accepted in the English courts and in the courts of the United States.

Judicial immunity was first recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in Randall v. Brigham, 74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 523, 19 L. Ed. 285 (1868). In Randall the Court held that an attorney who had been banned from the PRACTICE OF LAW by a judge could not sue the judge over the disbarment. In its opinion, the Court stated that a judge was not liable for judicial acts unless they were done “maliciously or corruptly.”

In Bradley v. Fisher, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 335, 20 L. Ed. 646 (1871), the U.S. Supreme Court clarified judicial immunity. Joseph H. Bradley had brought suit seeking civil damages against George P. Fisher, a former justice of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia. Bradley had been the attorney for John H. Suratt, who was tried in connection with the assassination of President ABRAHAM LINCOLN. In Suratt’s trial, after Fisher had called a recess, Bradley accosted Fisher “in a rude and insulting manner” and accused Fisher of making insulting comments from the bench. Suratt’s trial continued, and the jury was unable to reach a verdict.

Immediately after discharging the jury, Fisher ordered from the bench that Bradley’s name be stricken from the rolls of attorneys authorized to practice before the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia. Bradley sued Fisher for damages relating to lost work as a result of the order. At trial, Bradley attempted to introduce evidence in his favor, but Fisher’s attorney objected to each item, and the judge excluded each item. After three failed attempts to present evidence, the trial court directed the jury to deliver a verdict in favor of Fisher.

On appeal by Bradley, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision. Judges could be reached for their malicious acts, but only through IMPEACHMENT, or removal from office. Thus, the facts of the case were irrelevant. Even if Fisher had exceeded his jurisdiction in single-handedly banning Bradley from the court, Fisher was justified in his actions. According to the Court, “A judge who should pass over in silence an offence of such gravity would soon find himself a subject of pity rather than respect.”

Since Bradley, the U.S. Supreme Court has identified some exceptions to judicial immunity. Judges do not receive immunity for their administrative decisions, such as in hiring and firing court employees (Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 108 S. Ct. 538, 98 L. Ed. 2d 555 [1988]).

Judges also are not immune from declaratory and injunctive relief. These forms of relief differ from monetary relief. Generally they require parties to do or refrain from doing a certain thing. If a judge loses a suit for DECLARATORY JUDGMENT or injunctive relief, he or she may not be forced to pay money damages, but may be forced to pay the court costs and attorneys’ fees of the winning party. For example, assume that a judge requires the posting of bail by persons charged in criminal court with offenses for which they cannot be jailed. If a person subjected to this unconstitutional practice files suit against the judge, the judge will not be given judicial immunity and, upon losing the case, will be forced to pay the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees and court costs. (Pulliam v. Allen, 466 U.S. 522, 104 S. Ct. 1970, 80 L. Ed. 2d 565 [1984]).

The Court held in Pulliam that a judge could be forced to pay the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees and court costs under the 1976 Civil Rights Attorney’s Fees Awards Act, 42 U.S.C.A. § 1988. Gladys Pulliam, a Virginia state court magistrate, had jailed two men for failure to post bail following their arrest for abusive language and public drunkenness. Under Virginia law, the defendants could not receive a jail sentence if convicted of these offenses. The plaintiffs sued under the federal CIVIL RIGHTS ACT 42 U.S.C.A. SECTION 1983 and obtained an INJUNCTION forbidding the judge to require bail for these offenses. The judge was also ordered to pay the defendants $8,000 as reimbursement for their attorneys’ fees.

Judges throughout the United States viewed the Pulliam decision as a serious assault on judicial immunity. The Conference of State Chief Justices, the JUDICIAL CONFERENCE OF THE UNITED STATES, the AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION, and the American Judges Association lobbied Congress to amend the law and overturn Pulliam. Finally, in the Federal Courts Improvement Act of 1996 (Pub. L. No. 104-317, 110 Stat. 3847), Congress inserted language that voided the decision. The amendment prohibits injunctive relief in a § 1983 action against a “judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity” unless “a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable.” In addition, language was added to § 1988 that precludes the award of costs and attorney’s fees against judges acting in their official capacity.

Filing a civil complaint against a judge can be risky for attorneys because the doctrine of judicial immunity is well established. In Marley v. Wright, 137 F.R.D. 359 (W.D. Okla. 1991), attorney Frank E. Marley sued two Oklahoma state court judges, Thornton Wright, Jr., and David M. Harbour, their court reporter, and others. Marley alleged in his complaint that Wright and Harbour had violated his constitutional rights in connection with a custody case concerning Marley’s children. The court not only dismissed the case, but also ordered Marley to pay the attorney’s fees that Wright and Harbour had incurred in defending the suit. According to the court, Marley’s complaint “was not warranted by existing law,” and Marley had used the suit “not to define the outer boundaries of judicial immunity but to harass judges and judicial personnel who rendered a decision he did not like.”

SUPREME COURT ROUNDUP; RULING SAYS STATE JUDGES MAY BE SUED IN CIVIL RIGHTS CASES

May 15, 1984

SUPREME COURT ROUNDUP; RULING SAYS STATE JUDGES MAY BE SUED IN CIVIL RIGHTS CASES 1
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The Supreme Court ruled today that state judges may be sued for civil rights violations and may be ordered to pay the lawyers’ fees of those who sue them successfully.

While the 5-to-4 decision permitted only suits for injunctions, not damages, it marked a significant retreat from the doctrine of absolute judicial immunity to which the Court has long adhered.

Six years ago, for example, the Court ruled that a judge who had ordered a young woman to be sterilized without her knowledge or consent was absolutely immune from the woman’s subsequent damage suit.

The decision today, written by Associate Justice Harry A. Blackmun, retained the bar against suits for damages. But the dissenters, in an opinion by Associate Justice Lewis F. Powell, argued that there was little practical difference, from the point of view of a judge’s pocketbook, between a damage suit and an order to pay lawyers’ fees.

The decision upheld a ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Virginia, ordering a state magistrate to reimburse two men for $7,000 in lawyers’ fees.

The two men were arrested for petty offenses for which they could not have received a jail sentence. However, the magistrate jailed them because they could not make bail. The men sued in Federal court for a declaration that it was unconstitutional to require bail for non-jailable offenses and for an injunction against the continuation of the practice. They won and were awarded lawyers’ fees under the Civil Rights Attorney’s Fees Awards Act of 1976, which provides that prevailing parties in civil rights suits can recover their lawyers’ fees from the losing party.

Technically, the only question before the Court was whether, in passing the 1976 law, Congress intended to make judges liable for lawyers’ fees. But to decide that question, the Court first had to decide whether a state judge could be subject to a civil rights suit for an injunction in the first place.

Suit Used 1871 Rights Act

The suit against the Virginia magistrate was brought under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, one of the most widely used Federal civil rights laws. Usually referred to as Section 1983, this law permits suits for damages or injunctive relief against those who, ”under color of state law” violate an individual’s civil rights.

In his opinion, Justice Blackmun reviewed the history of judicial immunity in English common law, from which the American immunity doctrine is derived. He concluded that because English judges were subject to certain common-law writs much like modern- day injunctions, there was no historical basis for extending judicial immunity to injunctive suits.

Justice Blackmun also said there was no evidence that Congress meant to exclude judges from injunctions under Section 1983.

His opinion, Pulliam v. Allen, No. 82- 1432, was joined by Associate Justices William J. Brennan Jr., Byron R. White, Thurgood Marshall and John Paul Stevens.

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Powell said the majority opinion ”in effect eviscerates the doctrine of judicial immunity.” Subjecting judges to ”the ever-present threat of burdensome litigation,” he said, threatened judicial independence. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and Associate Justices William H. Rehnquist and Sandra Day O’Connor joined the dissent.

The Court dealt with these other matters today:

Jury ChallengesFor the second time in a year, the Court refused to consider the question of whether a black defendant’s rights are violated by the prosecution’s use of its peremptory challenges to keep blacks off the jury. The Court turned down three death penalty appeals from state appellate courts in Illinois challenging the exclusion of black jurors.

The Court had the cases under review for some months, an indication that the Justices may have been close to taking up the issue. But only Justices Marshall and Brennan voted to take the cases. Justice Marshall said he dissented from the Court’s ”refusal to confront” what he called ”one of the gravest and most persistent problems facing the American judiciary today.” (Williams v. Illinois, No. 83-5785).

Psychiatric ExamIn another death penalty case, the Court refused to hear a challenge by a Texas death row inmate to the conditions set by the trial judge on a psychiatric examination. The judge refused to order an examination of the defendant’s competency to stand trial unless the defendant agreed to permit the prosecution to use anything he said in the examination against him in the sentencing phase of the trial. In order to impose a death sentence under Texas law, a jury must find that a defendant would pose a continuing threat of violence. The defendant argued that the judge’s terms violated his constitutional right against compelled self-incrimination. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Justices Marshall and Brennan voted to hear the appeal. (Porter v. McKaskle, No. 83-5808).A version of this article appears in print on May 15, 1984, Section A, Page 15 of the National edition with the headline: SUPREME COURT ROUNDUP; RULING SAYS STATE JUDGES MAY BE SUED IN CIVIL RIGHTS CASES.

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Judicial Immunity

Judicial Immunity – Is NOT Absolute!

By David C. Grossack, Constitutional Attorney
Common Law Copyright © 1994 All Rights Reserved

Also see article on How To Sue A Judge and always remember, case law is ALWAYS changing.
Here is a selection of case/reference citations regarding judicial immunity when personally suing a Judge for money damages, from the collection of former Phoenix, AZ Attorney Robert A. Hirschfeld, JD. (Warning: Look up and read the cited case for consistency with your situation, before citing it in your own brief.)

When a judge knows that he lacks jurisdiction, or acts in the face of clearly valid statutes expressly depriving him of jurisdiction, judicial immunity is lost. Rankin v. Howard, (1980) 633 F.2d 844, cert den. Zeller v. Rankin, 101 S.Ct. 2020, 451 U.S. 939, 68 L.Ed 2d 326.

In Rankin v. Howard, 633 F.2d 844 (1980) the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed an Arizona District Court dismissal based upon absolute judicial immunity, finding that both necessary immunity prongs were absent; later, in Ashelman v. Pope, 793 F.2d 1072 (1986), the Ninth Circuit, en banc , criticized the “judicial nature” analysis it had published in Rankin as unnecessarily restrictive. But Rankin’s ultimate result was not changed, because Judge Howard had been independently divested of absolute judicial immunity by his complete lack of jurisdiction.

Some Defendants urge that any act “of a judicial nature” entitles the Judge to absolute judicial immunity. But in a jurisdictional vacuum, (that is, absence of all jurisdiction) the second prong necessary to absolute judicial immunity is missing. Stump v. Sparkman, id., 435 U.S. 349.

“Where there is no jurisdiction, there can be no discretion, for discretion is incident to jurisdiction.” Piper v. Pearson, 2 Gray 120, cited in Bradley v. Fisher, 13 Wall. 335, 20 L.Ed. 646 (1872)

A judge must be acting within his jurisdiction as to subject matter and person, to be entitled to immunity from civil action for his acts. Davis v. Burris, 51 Ariz. 220, 75 P.2d 689 (1938)

Generally, judges are immune from suit for judicial acts within or in excess of their jurisdiction even if those acts have been done maliciously or corruptly; the only exception being for acts done in the clear absence of all jurisdiction. Gregory v. Thompson, 500 F2d 59 (C.A. Ariz. 1974)

There is a general rule that a ministerial officer who acts wrongfully, although in good faith, is nevertheless liable in a civil action and cannot claim the immunity of the sovereign. Cooper v. O’Conner, 99 F.2d 133

When a judicial officer acts entirely without jurisdiction or without compliance with jurisdiction requisites he may be held civilly liable for abuse of process even though his act involved a decision made in good faith, that he had jurisdiction. State use of Little v. U.S. Fidelity & Guaranty Co., 217 Miss. 576, 64 So. 2d 697.

“… the particular phraseology of the constitution of the United States confirms and strengthens the principle, supposed to be essential to all written constitutions, that a law repugnant to the constitution is void, and that courts, as well as other departments, are bound by that instrument.” Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137 (1803).

“No judicial process, whatever form it may assume, can have any lawful authority outside of the limits of the jurisdiction of the court or judge by whom it is issued; and an attempt to enforce it betond these boundaries is nothing less than lawless violence.” Ableman v. Booth, 21 Howard 506 (1859).

“The courts are not bound by an officer’s interpretation of the law under which he presumes to act.” Hoffsomer v. Hayes, 92 Okla 32, 227 F 417.

> Journal: Cato Journal Vol 8, No. 1 – 1988
> Author : Bruce Benson
> Title : An Institutional Explanation for Corruption of Criminal Justice Officals

> Journal: Cato Journal, Vol. 7, No. 2, 1987
> Author : Robert Craig Waters
> Title : Judicial Immunity versus Due Process: When Should a Judge Be Subject to Suit?

Justice Field in Bradley v. Fisher. (13 Wall) 353 (1871) stated: “…judges of courts of superior or general jurisdiction are not liable to civil actions for their judicial acts, even when such acts are in excess of their jurisdiction.”

“The doctrine of judicial immunity originated in early seventeenth-century England in the jurisprudence of Sir Edward Coke. In two decisions, Floyd & Barker and the Case of the Marshalsea, Lord Coke laid the foundation for the doctrine of judicial immunity.” Floyd & Barker, 77 Eng. Rep. 1305 (1607; The Case of the Marshalsea, 77 Eng. Rep. 1027 (1612) were both cases right out of the Star Chamber.

Coke’s reasoning for judicial immunity was presented in four public policy grounds:
1. Finality of judgment;
2. Maintenance of judicial independence;
3. Freedom from continual calumniations; and,
4. Respect and confidence in the judiciary.

The Marshalsea presents a case where Coke denied a judge immunity for presiding over a case in assumpsit. Assumpsit is a common-law action for recovery of damages for breach of contract. Coke then explained the operation of jurisdiction requirement for immunity:

. “[W]hen a Court has (a) jurisdiction of the cause, and proceeds iverso ordine or erroneously, there the party who sues, or the officer or minister of the Court who executes the precept or process of the Court, no action lies against them. But (b) when the Court has not jurisdiction of the cause, there the whole proceeding is [before a person who is not a judge], and actions will lie against them without any regard of the precept or process…”

Although narrowing the availability of judicial immunity, especially in courts of limited jurisdiction, Coke suggested that there was a presumption of jurisdiction and that the judge must have been aware that jurisdiction was lacking.

Thus, questions of personam, rem and res jurisdiction are always a proper issue before the court to obviate the defense that the court had no way to know they lacked jurisdiction.

“Stump v Sparkman Revisited” continues to show it was Chief Justice Kent (circa 1810) that was instrumental in establishing the “doctrine” of JI in America, in Yates v. Lansing, 5 Johns 282. Thereafter Justice incorporated the “doctrine” in two cases: Randall v. Brigham, 74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 523, and Bradley v. Fisher, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 335 (1871). Both Yates and Randall dealt with officers of the court.

“The belief that Bradley narrowed the scope of the doctrine respresents a serious misunderstanding of the decision. First, Bradley provides no authority for the belief that a judge of general jurisdiction may be liable for acts taken in absence of subject matter jurisdiction. The distinction between excess of jurisdiction and absence of jurisdiction in the opinion is simply explanatory. Because a court of general jurisdiction has jurisdiction over all causes of action, a judge of such a court will always be immune for his judicial acts, even if he exceeds his authority. See Bradley, 80 U.S. at 351-52.”

CASE NOTE: “Federal tort law: judges cannot invoke judicial immunity for acts that violate litigants civil rights; Robert Craig Waters. Tort & Insurance Law Journal, Spr. 1986 21 n3, p509-516”

A Superior Court Judge is broadly vested with “general jurisdiction.” Evidently, this means that even if a case involving a particular attorney is not assigned to him, he may reach out into the hallway, having his deputy use “excessive force” to haul the attorney into the courtroom for chastisement or even incarceration. Mireles v. Waco, 112 S.Ct. 286 at 288 (1991). Arguably, anything goes, in a Superior Court Judge’s exercise of his “general jurisdiction”, with the judge enjoying “absolute judicial immunity” against tort consequences. Provide he is not divested of all jurisdiction.

A Judge is not immune for tortious acts committed in a purely Administrative, non-judicial capacity. Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. at 227-229, 108 S.Ct. at 544-545; Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. at 380, 98 S.Ct. at 1106. Mireles v. Waco, 112 S.Ct. 286 at 288 (1991).

Administrative-capacity torts by a judge do not involve the “performance of the function of resolving disputes between parties, or of authoritatively adjudicating private rights,” and therefore do not have the judicial immunity of judicial acts. See: Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 98 L.Ed.2d 555, 108 S.Ct. 538 (1988); Atkinson-Baker & Assoc. v. Kolts, 7 F.3d 1452 at 1454, (9th Cir. 1993). A Judge as a State Actor is not vested with the sovereign immunity granted to the State itself . See: Rolfe v. State of Arizona, 578 F.Supp. 987 (D.C. Ariz. 1983); Rutledge v. Arizona Bd. of Regents, 660 F.2d 1345, (9th Cir, 1981) cert. granted Kush v. Rutledge, 458 U.S. 1120, 102 S.Ct. 3508,73 L.Ed.2d 1382, affirmed 460 U.S. 719, 103 S.Ct. 1483, 75 L.Ed.2d. 413, appeal after remand 859 F.2d 732, Ziegler v. Kirschner, 781 P.2d 54, 162 Ariz. 77 (Ariz. App., 1989).

It is said that absolute judicial immunity is favored as public policy, so that judges may fearlessly, and safe from retribution, adjudicate matters before them. True. But equally important, is the public expectation that judicial authority will only be wielded by those lawfully vested with such authority.

The history of Arizona’s admission to the Union reveals at least one reason why historic public policy in Arizona would favor ARCP Rule 42(f)(1)’s complete and expeditious divestiture of jurisdiction, and its concurrent divestiture of absolute judicial immunity in the event a renegade judge persists in wielding the tools of his office after having been affirmatively stripped of them.

In 1912, the U.S. Congress refused to admit Arizona to the Union for the stated reason that Arizona’s proposed Constitution provided the public with a mechanism for removing sitting judges from office. Joint Res. No. 8, 8/21/11, 37 U.S. Stat. 39, cited in Vol. 1, Ariz. Rev. Stats., p.130. To facilitate admission to the Union, the judge-removal mechanism was excised from the State Constitution, allowing Arizona to become a State on 2/14/12. Soon afterward, on 11/5/12, Arizona voters restored the mechanism by amendment. Ariz. Constitution, Art. VIII “Removal from Office”, section 1; A.R.S. Vol. 1, p. 178. So strong was the citizens’ distrust of sitting State Court Judges in Arizona, that after Arizona copied the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, it added the present Rule 42(f)(1) to provide a mechanism for a litigant to permanently remove the assigned judge from the case.

The difference between selectively disabling a judge in various aspects of adjudication (such as during the appellate period) and the permanent extinguishment of his jurisdiction in a given case, has a logical relevance to a Judge’s expectation of enjoying absolute judicial immunity in that case.

In examining entitlement to immunity, the U.S. Supreme Court focused upon the nature of the act: is it an act ordinarily performed by a Judge? Unfortunately, judges sometimes exceed their jurisdiction in a particular case. But an act done in complete absence of all jurisdiction cannot be a judicial act. Piper v. Pearson, id., 2 Gray 120. It is no more than the act of a private citizen, pretending to have judicial power which does not exist at all. In such circumstances, to grant absolute judicial immunity is contrary.

How to Sue a Judge Without Using a Lawyer

By David C. Grossack, Constitutional Attorney
Common Law Copyright © 1994 All Rights Reserved

Has a judge violated your constitutional rights? Have you been discriminated against by being treated differently than other people in similar situations by reason of race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual preference or political opinion? Have you lost certain rights without a meaningful hearing or even an opportunity to be heard?

Have you been deprived of any other constitutional protection? Have you been subject to Court action for the purpose of intimidating you from exercising an opinion, or practicing your faith? Don’t let them get away with it.

Although it is almost impossible to recover monetary damages from a judge (unless you can prove he or she acted ultra-vires beyond his or her legal jurisdiction) it is in fact possible to obtain relief in equity against a judge through civil rights actions. Equitable relief includes:

a. declaratory relief – (rulings by another judge in the form of opinions establishing the constitutionality or lack of constitutionality of another judges actions.)

b. injunctive relief – a command or order to do something or refrain from doing so.

As a general rule, however, judges cannot be held liable for money damages for acts done in the exercise of his judicial function, within the limits of his jurisdiction, no matter how erroneous, illegal or malicious his acts may be. (48A Corpus Juris Secundum §86) A minority of decisions have held that if an inferior judge acts maliciously or corruptly he may incur liability. Kalb v. Luce, 291 N.W. 841, 234, WISC 509.

Federal Civil Rights statutes, and possibly Bivens actions, appear to offer the best path for redressing constitutional grievances with state and federal judges, respectively, in Federal Court. As a practical matter, such cases will usually be brought by pro se litigants. Neither the politics nor economics of law practice permits lawyers to pursue such cases nor makes them affordable except to a small elite of citizens.

However, lawyers who do successfully sue state judges in federal court in Title 42 U.S. Code § 1983 cases can recover attorney’s fees from judicial defendants provided they can show time sheets kept contemporaneously with their work.

The most important step you have to take in beginning your lawsuit is in writing the complaint that will be conforming to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (available in every Government Bookstore or from the Government Printing Office in Washington, DC.)

Properly drafted complaints need not be prepared by a lawyer. All that is required is a very fundamental understanding of a few basic constitutional principles and a typewriter and paper. Handwritten complaints can also be filed in court.

Each federal court publishes its own local rules which can impose some additional requirements, but essentially there are only a handful of things you need to know. 1. Each complaint has a caption reading “United States District Court, District of (name the jurisdiction e.g. Southern New York or Eastern California.) 2. Each complaint includes a caption indicating the name of the plaintiff, and the name of the defendant. The words “individually and in his official capacity” should appear after the name of the defendant judge. The words “Verified Complaint” should appear on the right side of the caption. Your caption should appear like this:

United States District Court
District of (State)
Civil Docket No. _______

John Doe,
Plaintiff
vs. VERIFIED COMPLAINT
Bobby Roe,
individually and in his/her official capacity as Justice of the Superior Court ) of [*****] County,
Defendant

A couple of spaces below, you must begin to spell out your reasons for bringing your complaint to Court. Make an outline of your case. First, state your “Jurisdictional Basis” in Paragraph I. I usually write as follows:

JURISDICTIONAL BASIS

I. Plaintiff claims federal jurisdiction pursuant to Article III § 2 which extends the jurisdiction to cases arising under the U.S. Constitution. Next you should write Paragraph II stating the precise Statutory Authority why you brought the case. If you are suing a state judge, you will state:

II. Plaintiff brings this suit pursuant to Title 42 U.S. Code § 1983 for violations of certain protections guaranteed to him by the First, Fifth, Eighth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments (select which apply) of the federal Constitution, by the defendant under color of law in his/her capacity as a judge in the Superior Court of (****) County.

If you are suing a federal judge, state:

“Plaintiff brings this action against (name), a federal judicial officer, pursuant to Title 28 U.S. Code § 1331, in claims arising from violations of federal constitutional rights guaranteed in the (fill in) amendments to the U.S. Constitution and redressable pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Narcotics Agents 403 U.S. 388 (1971).”

Be aware that the issue of whether federal judicial officers can in fact be sued under this authority is unresolved, but my opinion is that there is a strong implication in the affirmative based on the language in many cases.

Your complaint should then have a section entitled “Parties”. The next two paragraphs would read:

III. Plaintiff (Your name) is a natural person residing at (Your address), (County), (State).

IV. Defendant is a Judge presiding at (fill in.)

Following this you must now describe your claim in detail, giving legal and factual basis for your case. This portion of the case is entitled “Statement of Case”

What kind of factual pattern would give rise to a successful claim under the federal civil rights law? Title 42 U.S. Code § 1983 reads as follows:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

The burden of proof is upon the plaintiff to show that the defendant judge acted unconstitutionally or outside of his/her jurisdiction. If the judge engaged in an egregious discrimination against males in a divorce court, minorities in state criminal cases, members of an unpopular religious group in confrontation with government authorities and treated suspiciously in court or members of a “fringe” political group, these situations can give rise to a claim of denial of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.

If a judge permits an ex parte attachment, i.e. seizure of real estate without giving you notice of a hearing in a state court proceeding, this is a deprivation of property without due process, violating the Fifth Amendment as well as the Fourteenth Amendment.

Ex parte restraining orders forcing men or women out of their homes based on abuse allegations in state courts are a primary and rampant example of violations of constitutional rights today, and certainly actionable in federal court.

The first ten amendments of the Bill of Rights are self explanatory. Violations of any of the rights described in these amendments give rise to causes of action, both against state judges under Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and arguably against federal judges in Bivens actions.

Pro se litigants should give a clear and concise description of what happened in chronological order, identifying the judge, the date, time, and place of his or her action, and specifying which acts violated which constitutional amendments.

The complaint finishes with a section entitled “Prayer for Relief.” In such a case you can ask for an injunction ordering another judge to so something, or to refrain from doing something. Successful use of these suits has been made to nullify attachments, end incarcerations, declare laws or court practices unconstitutional and scare the heck out of black robed tyrants with gavels. See Pulliam v. Allen, 466 U.S. 522 (1983).

I often phrase my prayers for relief as follows:

Wherefore plaintiff prays this Court issue equitable relief as follows:

1. Issue injunctive relief commanding defendant to . . .

2. Issue declaratory relief as this Court deems appropriate just.

3. Issue other relief as this Court deems appropriate and just.

4. Award plaintiff his costs of litigation.

Respectfully submitted,

(Your signature)

Your name printed
Your address
City, State, Zip Code
Telephone No.

Statement of Verification

I have read the above complaint and it is correct to the best of my knowledge.

Your signature

Complaints are filed in the Civil Clerk’s Office in the United States District Court for your district.

Federal rules now allow for service of process by certified mail. You will be required to serve the defendant judge and also your state attorney general if you are suing a state judge.

The pro se road will be easier if you study the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, obtain a Black’s Law Dictionary and familiarize yourself with legal research methods. You must also read the Local Rules of the Federal Court where you are suing, and learn Constitutional law fast.

Using a lawyer as a coach is helpful. Bear in mind that your lawsuit is disfavored because it is against a judge. Nevertheless, our system of “justice” is in such tough shape that suits against judges are a socio-political necessity.

Complaints should be photocopied, disseminated to the legislature, the media and political action groups.

Perhaps the cumulative impact of these suits will bring a healthy radical change for the American people.

The author is an attorney in private practice in Boston.

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