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Federal judge demands lawyers’ public statements in judge-shopping case

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Federal judge demands lawyers’ public statements in judge-shopping case

Jun 21, 2024 | 3:36 pm ET
By Jemma Stephenson
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Federal judge demands lawyers’ public statements in judge-shopping case
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A sign outside the Frank M. Johnson Jr. Federal Building and United States Courthouse in Montgomery, Alabama seen on January 24, 2023. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)

The judge overseeing a case over Alabama’s ban on gender-affirming care for minors has required plaintiffs’ attorneys to turn over any public statements related to allegations that the attorneys engaged in judge shopping early in the case.

In a one-page order filed Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Liles C. Burke ordered the attorneys, or “respondents,” to turn over “copies of any public statements they or their organizations have made about these attorney-disciplinary proceedings, including press releases, website content, social media posts, interviews, public speeches, newsletters, and public emails.”

Barry Ragsdale, an attorney for respondents James Esseks, Carl Charles and LaTisha Faulks, wrote in response to questions in a Friday afternoon email that they had no comment on the orders but planned to file an objection.

The attorneys in the case were accused of judge shopping after a series of dismissals, consolidations and re-filings of the case in the immediate days after the law was first passed in 2022. Burke, an appointee of former U.S. President Donald Trump, was assigned the consolidated case and re-assigned the case after it was refiled.

A panel of three judges released an initially-sealed review in October, which included information on an attorney calling the chamber of U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, who has historically ruled in favor of civil rights and reproductive rights.

The Alabama law makes it a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for a physician to prescribe puberty blockers or hormones in gender-affirming care. Families of transgender youth said the ban would put their children’s physical and mental health in jeopardy.

Burke initially blocked the law after a hearing in 2022, but a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit overturned that ruling last year, allowing the ban to go into effect. The plaintiffs are seeking a full review by the 11th Circuit. 

The respondents are required to turn over the documents by Saturday 5:00 p.m.

In a separate Thursday filing, Burke also denied the use of some expert witnesses by attorneys accused of judge shopping in a case over Alabama’s transgender affirming care.

The respondents had submitted requests for Burke to amend his order, allowing the use of some experts in the proceedings.

In the Thursday order, the judge cited a March 18 decision, where he wrote that legal questions are not subject to expert testimony.

“An expert’s opinion on whether sanctions are appropriate is just the sort of legal conclusion the Court must be vigilant to exclude,” Burke wrote.

Burke wrote in March that a second requested legal expert would have resulted in the same concerns as the first requested one. He wrote that the expert would “would patently infringe on the role of the court.”