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Belle Meade country Club is a 110-year old private organization in Nashville Tennessee. Its bylaws allow only 175 unmarried "Lady Members" at a given time. And despite a number of qualifying applicants, it counts only one African-American member amongst its ranks.
Judge George C. Paine, the Chief Judge for the Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, has belonged to Belle Meade for over 30 years. On Thursday, his membership became the basis for a finding of judicial misconduct.
Federal judges are governed by unique code of conduct that is ultimately enforced by the Judicial Conference. The Conference was created by Congress to act as policy-setting body for the U.S. Courts.
Federal judges must act in a manner that "promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary." They are also banned from holding membership in discriminatory organizations.
Belle Meade is a hierarchy ruled by "Resident Members." None of them are female or black. In fact, two applications for such membership have been pending for four years.
Even though Judge George Paine took steps to integrate his organization and urged members to admit more Jews and African-Americans, the Conference still found him guilty of judicial misconduct.
Despite no strict policy of discrimination, the public could justifiably perceive Belle Meade to be a discriminatory organization. It's a social club for prominent persons in the Nashville area. More than enough women and African-Americans fit the description.
The mere appearance of discrimination is enough to create a presumption of bias.
For those who wonder whether Judge George Paine was punished--he was not. He is set to retire at the end of this year, so the Conference chose not to act.
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