Retired U.S. District Judge Harry Lee Hudspeth of Austin got away with it. To no one’s surprise, the Fifth Circuit Judicial Council in New Orleans shrugged off the evidence that Judge Hudspeth covered up the sexual misconduct of U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith, Jr. of Waco while Hudspeth was serving as the chief judge for the Western District of Texas.
Back in May, I reported that Judge Hudspeth quietly retired while he was under investigation, apparently in an attempt to avoid judicial discipline. Today’s order from the Fifth Circuit seems to confirm that:
In the light of Judge Hudspeth’s retirement from office, the Judicial Council is no longer able to impose any sanction under 28 U.S.C. § 354(a)(2)(A) or (B). Moreover, even assuming the allegations of the complaint are true, the Council concludes that they would not warrant recommending the extraordinary step of attempting the impeachment of a judge who is no longer on the bench.
Even assuming the allegations of my complaint are true? The order explains that the judicial council had held my complaint against Judge Hudspeth in abeyence (i.e., in limbo) while it investigated Judge Smith. I happen to know, however, that judicial investigators did investigate matters related to Judge Hudspeth, but the judicial council apparently sat on the findings in order to give Judge Hudspeth an opportunity to retire quietly. That allowed the judicial council to shrug its shoulders and say, “Aw shucks, there’s nothing we can do.”
That’s similar to what happened with Judge Smith. The judicial council first tried to let Judge Smith off with a one-year partial suspension for grabbing and groping a woman in the courthouse. I appealed the sentence, and a national appellate panel sent the case back to the Fifth Circuit with directions to investigate the other incidents I reported, then reconsider the punishment. A week before the second order was released, Judge Smith retired. Naturally, the judicial council said it was powerless to act and washed its hands of the matter.
The message is clear: if you’re a federal judge who does something unethical, immoral, or even criminal, your fellow judges will do their best to cover for you. And no, I don’t plan to let that slide. Next week, I intend to appeal the orders concerning Judge Hudspeth and Judge Smith. (BTW, am I the only one who sees a resemblance between Judge Hudspeth and Emperor Palpatine?)