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US Court of Appeals Finds for Judge in Gordian Knot of Interests

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed in August 2012 the district court’s judgment that Judge James DeWeese, presiding in a state action against Edwin Griffeth, a supervised prison releasee, overstepped his authority and acted without jurisdiction in evicting Plaintiff Jennifer Leech form tenancy at Griffeth’s house. Leech was ex-spouse to Griffeth’s release supervisor, John Mayer. Leech contended without proof that Mayer and Judge DeWeese colluded to harass Griffeth for his friendship with Leech.

Plaintiff contended Judge DeWeese did not have jurisdiction to evict her, a non-party to any action before the judge, and that he violated her civil rights by his order. Judge DeWeese moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, failure to state a claim, and absolute judicial immunity. District court found for the judge with respect to judicial immunity on all issues except his removal of Leech from the residence, denying the judge’s motion to dismiss. Judge DeWeese appealed.

Plaintiff alleged long-standing familial friendship between the DeWeeses and the Mayers, which her ex-husband used to his advantage, arranging Griffeth’s release terms and personnel supervising him to result inevitably in violation of those terms. At a June 2012 hearing, Griffeth contended Judge DeWeese was improperly influenced by his friendship with Mayer and asked the judge to recuse himself. The judge refused, found Griffeth guilty of violating a no-contact condition with Leech, and imposed new control elements.

In district court, Leech claimed that Judge DeWeese had not established absolute judicial immunity because the judge did not have authority to order a non-party to vacate the residence. Judge DeWeese claimed the order was properly directed against Griffeth, not Leech.

In analysis, the circuit court had to determine whether Judge DeWeese’s actions were of a nonjudicial nature or whether his actions were undertaken absent all jurisdiction. All parties stipulated as to the first test, and the court noted “only in the absence of subject matter jurisdiction are judicial actors devoid of the shield of immunity,” as to the second test. The court recognized that Judge DeWeese was sitting a court of general jurisdiction in the Griffeth action, and thus had jurisdiction.

The court of appeals reversed the district court’s judgment and granted Judge DeWeese’s motion to dismiss. See: Leech v. DeWeese, 689 F.3d 538 (6th Cir 2012).

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Related legal case

Leech v. DeWeese