US federal judge, 96, suspended over 'mental fitness'
The oldest United States federal judge, at age 96, Pauline Newman

WASHINGTON, United States, (AFP) – The oldest United States federal judge, at age 96, was suspended from her duties Wednesday over questions about her mental competency, in a case evoking the debate over elderly politicians like Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

Pauline Newman, an appellate court judge since 1984, was accused by colleagues of working too slowly and of frequently appearing confused, agitated and belligerent, which raised concerns of "disability," according to the ruling by the Judicial Council of the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Interviews with staff "provided overwhelming evidence that Judge Newman may be experiencing significant mental problems including memory loss, lack of comprehension, confusion, and an inability to perform basic tasks," it said.

Despite being given a reduced workload, Newman takes four times as long as other judges to issue opinions in cases before the court, it said.

The council said that because Newman refused to accept being examined by a council-chosen neurologist and psychiatrist to judge her mental acuity, it was suspending her for one year, which could be extended if she still refused to cooperate.

But Newman, who has been deprived of reviewing cases since April, has said the proceedings against her were conducted illegally, and suggested they were the product of personal animosity from other judges.

She backed her argument with the results of examinations by specialists she herself chose.

"Judge Newman demonstrated no substantial emotional, medical, or psychiatric disability that would interfere with continuation of her longstanding duties as a judge," psychiatrist Regina Carney said.

The case comes amid questions about the capabilities of an increasing number of elderly politicians -- President Joe Biden, 80, and rival Donald Trump, 77, among them -- to perform their duties.

Born in 1927, Newman earned a PhD in chemistry from Yale and then became a patent law expert.

In 1984 she was named to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, a special court dealing with patent laws and government contracts.

The ruling against her noted she had been called "the heroine of the patent system."

Her attorney, Gregory Dolin of the New Civil Liberties Alliance, said the review of her case was stacked against her.

"The bottom line is that Judge Newman did not get due process," he told AFP.

He said personal animosities as well as ageism factored into the case.

"It's easy to say she's 96, she's past her prime, even if it's not true," Dolin said.

"Whatever you might say about some politicians in Washington, Judge Newman is not in that group," he added.

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