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Nevada’s most-reversed federal judge should call it quits

It’s time for Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Clive Jones to retire.

I mean really retire. He took senior status in February, so he’s still hearing cases.

He’s the most-appealed and most-reversed federal judge in Nevada, according to the legal research service Westlaw.

The Reno-based judge should be ashamed of his reversal rate over the past 12 years. When 44 percent of your cases are appealed and only 55 percent of those appealed are affirmed, it’s a sign you’re not doing a good job.

Out of 321 cases heard by Jones since late 2003, 38 (12 percent) have been flat-out reversed, the highest rate among all Nevada federal judges. An additional 35 cases (11 percent) were affirmed in part and reversed in part, also the highest rate among the 12 U.S. District Court judges in Las Vegas and Reno.

To answer my query about which Nevada federal judge is reversed the most, Westlaw ran reports starting in 2003 until the present for Jones, who was a bankruptcy judge for 10 years. Other judges’ reports were based on their length of service with 2000 as the earliest available year.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently thwacked Jones for the sixth time.

“We have in the past expressed concern over the district court’s handling of a number of cases that have reached this court, and we unfortunately must do so against here,” the appellate judges wrote.

The 9th Circuit’s most recent reversal of Jones was a First Amendment case brought by Black Rock City, the company that runs the Burning Man festival, against Pershing County officials. Filed in August 2012, it was close to settling in November 2013.

At the settlement hearing, the appellate judges said, “Judge Jones excoriated and mocked counsel and offered lengthy criticisms of the settlement agreement despite counsel’s repeated statements that the parties were not seeking the court’s approval.”

“Among other things, Judge Jones noted his own laughter on the record, repeatedly lobbed accusations of malpractice, described counsel’s comments as ‘mealy-mouthed,’ and suggested that counsel return to law school.”

The appellate judges also wrote, “The fact that parties have entered into a settlement agreement does not render this appeal moot. Where district courts have issued wrongful orders, this court has exercised the party to vacate them.”

The four-page opinion went beyond the case at hand, listing the five other cases in which they previously had expressed concerns about Jones.

The appellate judges haven’t issued such sharp slap-downs in every decision to overturn a Jones ruling, but those six cases since 2012 raise doubts about Jones’ abilities.

He seems to be growing increasingly rude, increasingly wrong and increasingly anti-government, at least in the 9th Circuit’s opinion. Certain cases seem to be decided on his philosophy instead of the law.

Jones did not respond to a request for comment.

I last wrote about Jones in July, after two of his cases were reversed. In one, he was told to stop his practice of barring out-of-state U.S. attorneys from appearing before him.

In the second, he injected himself into a plea agreement, which was not his job.

The appellate judges said they wanted to “offer guidance” to Jones. Their guidance: Stop it.

In another case, involving Nevada’s unique “None of These Candidates” ballot option, he was bashed for playing politics because he delayed action on his ruling, clearly hoping that stalling would prevent its reversal before the 2012 presidential election. Backers of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney thought the “None of These Candidates” option would hurt his chances by giving hard-line conservatives an opportunity to cast a protest vote against Romney. Jones took their side, declaring the option unconstitutional less than three months before the election. The appeals court took that case away from Jones and left “None of These Candidates” on the ballot.

“Such arrogance and assumption of power by one individual is not acceptable in our judicial system,” the judges wrote.

In January, the 9th Circuit reversed Jones’ ruling in favor of the late Wayne Hage, one of the leaders of the Sagebrush Rebellion, saying the Hage family openly trespassed on federal land and that Jones’ ruling “plainly contravenes the law.” Jones’ legal theory was dismissed as idiosyncratic.

Hage’s trespass? He grazed his cattle on public lands without paying fees.

Sound familiar?

Presumably, in light of such serious setdowns showing Jones’ antipathy for federal officials and federal laws, the lifetime appointee should ask himself whether it’s time for him, as the most reversed federal judge in Nevada, to do the right thing and quit.

He’d still get a generous retirement for the rest of his life.

But he wouldn’t be wasting taxpayers’ money and the time and resources of the court and the people involved in civil and criminal cases before him.

Review-Journal Data Editor Adelaide Chen contributed to this report. Jane Ann Morrison’s column runs Thursdays. Leave messages for her at 702-383-0275 or email jmorrison@reviewjournal.com. Find her on Twitter: @janeannmorrison

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