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North Texas federal court won’t adopt guidelines to curb judge shopping, Dallas judge says

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The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas won’t change its case assignment policy to curb judge shopping, according to a letter from Chief Judge David C. Godbey to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Schumer sent Godbey a letter March 21 encouraging the court to implement a policy adopted by the U.S. Judicial Conference in mid-March that recommends federal district courts randomly assign lawsuits concerning state or federal laws, in order to avoid the likelihood that a case will be assigned to a certain judge in a court’s division.

But in a March 29 response the senator made public Monday, Godbey said district judges met March 27 and decided “not to make any change to our case assignment process at this time.”

A spokesperson told KERA in an email the court can’t comment on its decision-making process but confirmed the court hasn’t made any changes to its case assignment procedures.

Schumer called it “unfortunate” Godbey and the other judges would allow the “odious practice of judge shopping” to continue.

“Judge shopping has been abused by right-wing activists to circumvent the legislative process and subvert the will of the American people,” he posted in a statement Monday. “The American people deserve to have faith in the fairness of our court system, and it is clear that the Judicial Conference’s new policy moves our legal system in the right direction.”

Judge or forum shopping occurs when plaintiffs or defendants push to get a case heard by a specific judge or in a specific area that the party believes will likely be sympathetic to their case.

Schumer had previously sent Godbey a letter discouraging case assignments that allow judge shopping in April 2023, pointing out that, for example, every case filed in the Northern District of Texas’ Amarillo division is assigned to Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, an appointee of former President Donald Trump.

The chief judge said he was “cognizant of the public perception of improper judge-shopping in single-judge divisions,” but the scope of the district is too large and assigning cases randomly would present logistical challenges for the court. Schumer pushed back, saying the Judicial Conference’s guidelines only apply to certain civil cases, which should make random assignment easier for the court to implement.

Senate Republicans like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have been outspoken against what he called the Judicial Conference’s “half-baked” recommendations.

Godbey’s latest response came as the Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week in a case involving the abortion pill mifepristone, which started in Kacsmaryk’s court when he ruled to suspend FDA approval of the drug nearly a year ago. Attorney General Ken Paxton has been accused of funneling cases to Kacsmaryk, who also blocked the Biden administration’s effort to end a Trump-era “remain in Mexico” policy.

Kacsmaryk was also criticized when it was discovered he removed his name from a 2017 law review article criticizing Obama administration policies protecting transgender people and people seeking abortions. The removal came during his judicial nomination process, but did not come to light until after his ruling in the mifepristone case, the Washington Post previously reported.

Got a tip? Email Toluwani Osibamowo at tosibamowo@kera.org. You can follow Toluwani on X @tosibamowo.

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