Judge Lamberth's Reign of Terror at the Department of Interior

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In part I of this article, I describe briefly the Indian rights dispute that Judge Royce Lamberth has been adjudicating since 1996. In part II, I describe two types of collateral actions he has taken in the case. He has held five cabinet Secretaries or Assistant Secretaries in contempt, threatened eighty government employees with contempt citations, and twice ordered the Department of Interior to disconnect its computers from the Internet for lengthy periods. In part III, I explain why I believe that these actions were unjustified, extraordinarily costly, and intolerable. In part IV, I describe the mechanisms that are available in the legal system today to limit a judge's ability to engage in such a pattern of action. In part V, I propose a new three-part means of reducing the risk that judges will engage in the kinds of abusive behavior illustrated by Judge Lamberth. I urge circuit courts to adopt a process of asking practitioners to complete anonymous questionnaires in which they provide their opinions with respect to the most important characteristics of a federal judge. The Chief Judge of the Circuit would then use the results as a basis for counseling federal judges who have a tendency to engage in abusive behavior and for imposition of formal sanctions on the rare judge who engages in an intolerable pattern of abusive behavior and who is resistant to informal counseling by the Chief Judge.

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