LAFAYETTE — A legal-ethics expert says a pending case challenging the competency of a federal judge in Louisiana has several components that are outside the norm of a typical civil lawsuit.

The case involves U.S. District Judge Patricia Minaldi, who currently is on sick leave from the Western District bench, and was filed by U.S. Magistrate Kathleen Kay, who has served under Minaldi for about 10 years.

The suit challenges Minaldi’s competency and whether she is capable of tending to her own personal affairs.

“I’ve never heard of that before,” Dane Ciolino, a professor of law at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, told the Louisiana Record. “Typically, such intervention — called an interdiction proceeding — is initiated by a family member.”

He said the interdiction proceeding would attempt to determine the competency of Minaldi, who last year was convicted of a DUI charge and sentenced to probation.

“The standard is whether she has the capacity to make reasoned decisions about her own affairs and property,” Ciolino said.

Having such a case taken from the public view is also outside of the normal civil judicial process, Ciolino said, though the judge overseeing Kay’s request has done just that by officially sealing it.

“It’s very unusual to have a civil case sealed,” he said, noting that most judges err on the side of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which offers free speech and press protections, and ensures the public’s right to know information about government officials.

A media organization has asked the judge considering Kay’s request to unseal the case and place it in public view, and Ciolino says he agrees that request should be granted. The judge has said a decision on the request to unseal will be made later this month.

“The records should be unsealed — in this case — because the public has an interest in seeing the competency of the federal judge,” he said.

Ciolino said that even if the judge presiding over the case determines Minaldi to be incompetent to handle her own affairs, that decision still wouldn’t affect her standing as an active judge, though the circuit court could limit or reduce her caseload.

“Taking sick leave alone shouldn’t have anything to do with her judgeship,” he said.

Ciolino said the only way to remove Minaldi from the bench would be to initiate impeachment proceedings through the Louisiana House of Representatives.

“But it’s very premature to be talking about that process,” he said.

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