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Was Boyce Martin a Victim of 6th Cir. Judicial Infighting?

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

By now, many have heard of Judge Boyce F. Martin's ignominious departure from the Sixth Circuit bench. The former chief was forced into retirement after a travel expenses reimbursement scandal, one that ended with him agreeing to retire quietly and pay back all of his travel expenses, even those that were undisputed. Nonetheless, Chief Judge Alice Batchelder referred the case to the Justice Department, which decided against bringing charges.

It's been a dark end to a long and notable legal career. In his time on the bench, Martin wrote more than 1,500 opinions, including the first opinion upholding Obamacare, and more notably, the Sixth Circuit's take on Grutter v. Bollinger, an opinion that fractured the court and publicized the infighting in a series of concurrences and appendices.

Grutter v. Bollinger: Public Judicial Infighting (2002)

Nearly every lawyer and law student in America knows Grutter v. Bollinger: It's the big Supreme Court opinion on affirmative action. But before SCOTUS, it was a highly entertaining case of judicial politics and publicized bickering.

The beef began with a "procedural appendix," affixed to the opinion by Judge Danny Boggs. Boggs accused Judge Martin of deliberately waiting to circulate the parties' en banc request, with two judges who likely would've gone against Martin's majority opinion retiring during the delay. Boggs also accused Judge Martin of improperly putting himself on the three-judge panel that would've heard the case, had the full court not taken the unusual step of hearing it en banc without a panel hearing.

Judge Kimberly Moore jumped in with a harshly worded concurrence, defending Martin:

Judge Boggs's opinion marks a new low point in the history of the Sixth Circuit. It will irreparably damage the already strained working relationships among the judges of this court, and [...] serve to undermine public confidence in our ability to perform our important role in American democracy.

And Judge Clay, in concurrence, wrote, "I write separately, however, for the purpose of speaking to the misrepresentations made by Judge Boggs in his dissenting opinion which unjustifiably distort and seek to cast doubt upon the majority opinion."

In short, this was a fractured court. And it got worse for Martin after Judge Batchelder released an internal report that faulted Martin for his conduct in the case, stating that his actions "raise an inference that misconduct has occurred." Judge Martin denied the accusations and told The New York Times that he treated the case as he would any other.

Ohio Republican Party v. Brunner: Batchelder's Botched Recusal (2008)

In a separate dissent from the en banc opinion, Judge Martin, after complimenting Judge Moore's "well-reasoned dissent," set his sights on Judge Batchelder:

What I find troubling is the fact that Judge Batchelder did not recuse herself from voting for rehearing this case en banc, while her husband stands for reelection this year as a state representative in Ohio, whose election will no doubt be substantially altered by the way the en banc majority ultimately decides this case. At stake here is the public's confidence not only in the outcome of its elections, but also in the impartiality of its judges who must, from time to time, review the procedures which govern those elections.

Martin goes on to cite 28 U.S.C. § 455, which requires a judge to recuse herself "in any proceeding in which [her] impartiality might reasonably be questioned," a standard which is objective and focuses on the appearance of impartiality. Remember when Judge Moore noted an "already strained working relationship" on the bench? Three other judges joined Martin's opinion. And Martin, at the end of his rant, referenced past public spats between judges.

Judge Batchelder, in a concurrence, noted that no party, nor other judge, had previously requested her recusal before the public airing of grievances. As for any bias:

Bill Batchelder, on the other hand, is not a named party to this lawsuit, and is one of literally hundreds of candidates on the November ballot in Ohio. Unless Judge Martin is claiming that only Republican candidates will benefit from preventing vote fraud, Bill Batchelder's candidacy is no more affected by this litigation than is the candidacy of every other individual on that ballot.

The Travel Expenses Scandal

This brings us to the present-day scandal. We recapped the probe in full previously, but here is the short version: Judge Martin submitted $138,500 in travel reimbursement requests, a portion of which were questioned. Martin retired, citing health, until the investigation (which was initiated by Chief Judge Batchelder) was made public.

Martin has since paid back the entire amount, including undisputed portions, but the case was referred to the Department of Justice by the ethics panel. Martin blamed the discrepancies on "administrative errors." Last week, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, the DOJ declined to prosecute, ending the investigation that ended Judge Martin's career.

What do you think -- is this a matter of petty infighting, judicial corruption, or both?

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