A federal judge has tossed out a $20 million civil rights lawsuit against U.S. District Judge Alan McDonald of Yakima.
Kathryn Blankenship, McDonald’s former court reporter, filed the suit in February.
She claimed McDonald retaliated against her after she reported he’d illegally altered court documents and used government employees in his private real estate business.
The case was brought by two Seattle law firms after extensive debate about the risks of challenging the authority of a federal judge.
In an opinion filed Friday, U.S. District Judge Owen Panner of Portland, said Blankenship has no claim against McDonald.
Panner’s decision followed a June hearing in Portland, where he heard arguments on a motion to dismiss the case.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 1971 created a private right of action for damages against federal officials who violate a person’s constitutional rights, Panner said in his written opinion.
But “the court has been cautious” about creating new remedies under the case - Bivens vs. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Panner said.
As a court reporter who served at the pleasure of federal judges in Spokane, Blankenship is not entitled to protection under the Bivens decision, Panner ruled.
Congress’ reluctance to extend more protections to federal court employees since Bivens “is not inadvertent” because Congress is deferential to the independence of the judiciary, he said.
Panner also dismissed related claims against James Larsen, the federal court clerk in Spokane. Blankenship sued him for his alleged role in firing her from her court reporter position, which she held from December 1985 to March 1995.
In a prepared statement in February, Larsen blamed Blankenship’s lawsuit on sour grapes, saying she was upset after being fired for poor work performance.
Attorneys representing Blankenship, McDonald and Larsen could not be reached for comment Friday. It could not be determined whether her attorneys are planning to appeal Panner’s decision.
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