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