Wednesday, August 29, 2001



Posted By on Wed, Aug 29, 2001 at 4:00 AM

In an extraordinary secret session closed to reporters and the public, a panel of federal appeals court judges met in a courtroom in Memphis Wednesday to consider whether U.S. District Judge Jon McCalla is fit to be a federal judge. The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a court order closing the proceedings on the ninth floor of the federal building to public scrutiny. Reporters were turned away outside the elevators and told that they could not even be on the floor, much less inside the courtroom. Even in secret grand jury sessions, reporters are allowed outside the jury room and free to try to interview witnesses. Trials, whether they involve the president of the United States or paupers, are normally held in open court. The McCalla matter -- the vagueness is due to the federal courts’ refusal to disclose any information whatsoever about what is going on -- is not a trial as such but a special proceeding to look into complaints about the judge’s temperament. Neither the U.S. Marshall’s Office in Memphis nor the U.S. District Court Clerk’s office was able to provide a reporter with a copy of the Sixth Circuit Court order Wednesday. Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Thomas E. Thompson referred questions to Sixth Circuit Executive James Higgins. But Higgins’ office in Cincinnati said he was unavailable until next Tuesday because he is in Memphis. McCalla has been presiding over a number of high-profile local cases including the Shelby County Jail case. The judge got himself in hot water in other trial hearings where he repeatedly scolded attorneys and questioned their professionalism. Now it is McCalla’s professionalism that is at issue. But the public isn’t getting so much as a peek.

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