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Prisoner’s Lawsuit Dismissed Due to Abusive Language

Prisoner’s Lawsuit Dismissed Due to Abusive Language

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has held that abusive language directed towards a federal magistrate judge was sufficient grounds to dismiss a prisoner’s lawsuit.

New York state prisoner Edward Koehl, while housed at the Green Haven Correctional Facility, sent several letters to a district court attacking the magistrate judge’s character, religion and fitness to preside over his case. He had originally filed suit against the prison’s medical department alleging that his constitutional rights were violated when medical staff failed to provide him with proper treatment, among other issues.

When Koehl became displeased with the way the magistrate judge was handling the case he submitted several abusive letters to the court. On January 27, 2012, the magistrate warned Koehl that if he did not stop sending abusive and insulting correspondence, sanctions against him could include dismissal of his case altogether.

Heedless of the consequences, Koehl fired off more abusive letters. In a rant dated April 9, 2012, he wrote, “[The magistrate judge] is the personification of why Jews such as myself are called KIKES.”

On April 26, 2012, the district court ordered Koehl to explain why his case should not be dismissed due to his repeated vitriolic submissions. Instead of an explanation, Koehl sent yet another insulting and abusive letter to the court.

The magistrate judge filed a report and recommendation proposing that Koehl’s case be dismissed with prejudice; the following month the district court adopted the recommendation, and Koehl appealed.

Upon review, the Second Circuit affirmed the lower court’s ruling. The appellate court stated that while the mere accusation of bias “cannot be deemed actionable misconduct on the part of a litigant or attorney.... The right to accuse a judge of bias (or of misconduct) does not carry with it the right to abuse and insult.... Our [liberal] pro se practice is a shield against the technical requirements of a past age; it is not a sword with which to insult a trial judge.”

The Court of Appeals clarified that “The offending conduct for which the sanction was imposed was not Koehl’s accusations that the Magistrate Judge was biased against him, but rather his offensive, abusive, and insulting language.”

Koehl had referred to the magistrate as “a gay basher and homophobic,” said he was “pure evil” and stated, “you disgrace the bench with every breath you take.” Further, he wrote that the magistrate judge “constantly lies and falsifies his orders to protect the state government defendants. He should literally be in a prison cell until hell’s representative comes and gets him.” See: Koehl v. Bernstein, 740 F.3d 860 (2d Cir. 2014).

This decision reaffirms the common sense notion that it is never a good idea to insult the judge presiding over your case.

Additional source: New York Law Journal

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Related legal case

Koehl v. Bernstein