High Court declines to hear suits over judges

The Supreme Court declined Monday to hear appeals questioning the conduct of federal judges in two separate cases. The Supreme Court passed up the chance to get into the delicate issue of when judges should remove themselves in the cases: one that questioned the impartiality of a California judge, and another involving the lawsuits over the FBI siege of the Branch Davidian complex near Waco, Texas.

In the Texas case, the court did not comment in declining to hear appeals from survivors and families of children who died in a fire that swept the complex in April 1993 during the siege.

The judge, Walter Smith, the only federal judge sitting in Waco, declined to remove himself from the case even though the Davidians said he demonstrated bias against them.

At one point the judge referred to part of the Davidians' case as "bullcrap," lawyers for surviving family members alleged. They also said he had referred to a witness as a "crazy, murdering son of a bitch."

Smith dismissed most of the claims against the federal government in 1999 and dismissed the rest of the case after a trial in 2000 in which an advisory jury found the government not negligent. In the California case, an appeals court had said the judge appeared to be biased against anti-logging protesters and reassigned the demonstrators' lawsuit.

The protesters had claimed they were hurt when pepper spray was applied to their eyelids in 1997. They were shackled at the time, and their suit seeks to prevent the police from using chemicals on nonviolent protesters.

Lawyers for the Humboldt County, California, and several officers had asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the federal district judge, Vaughn Walker, to the case. The justices declined without comment to hear the case.