All judges, especially those at the federal level, must be careful about what they say either in public or during official judicial forums. U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge John Primono forgot this rule of professional conduct on November 18, 2016 at an induction ceremony for several dozen of the nation’s newest citizens.
The ceremony was held at the Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio. Rather than stick to the standard celebratory language fitting for all the hugs and congratulations being spread around, Magistrate Judge Primono recklessly, and quite unprofessionally, decided to make the event political—something so remarkably ill-timed during this period of social and cultural divisiveness that it boggles all rational thought.
Lecture at Naturalization Goes Astray
Primono decided the lecture the émigrés about their civic responsibilities to newly President-elect Donald Trump. He embarked upon political criticism of the protests across the country in the wake of Trump’s election before instructing the new citizens:
“I can assure you that whether you vote for [Trump] or you did not vote for him, if you are a citizen of the United States, he is your president and he will be your president. And if you do not like that, you need to go to another country.”
Apparently, Magistrate Judge Primono had a memory lapse of the constitutional principles upon which this nation was formed and has been maintained. One of those principles is the undeniable First Amendment right to protest, to disagree with any elected official, including the President, and to engage in any lawful exercise to improve the political direction of this nation.
After having effectively embarrassed and shame the new citizens, Primono launched into a tirade against NFL players who have chosen not to stand during the pre-game playing of the national anthem.
“I detest that, because you can protest things that happen in this country, you have every right to,” the Magistrate Judge lashed out. “You don’t do that by offending national symbols like the national anthem and the flag of the United States.”
Comments out of Context
Judge Primono has responded to the critics that his comments were taken out of context and that he was trying to say something “hopeful and unifying.”
Like all Americans, Primono has a right to his own social and political views, but he does not enjoy the right in an official judicial proceeding to impose them on others, especially in such a hostile manner.
There are five Canons in Code of Conduct for United States Judges. It is arguable that Magistrate Judge Primono’s conduct at the induction ceremony violated at least three of them.
Canon 1: A Judge Should Uphold the integrity and Independence of the Judiciary.
An independent and honorable judiciary is indispensable to justice in our society. A judge should maintain and enforce high standards of conduct and should personally observe those standards, so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary may be preserved.
Canon 2: A Judge Should Avoid Impropriety and the Appearance of Impropriety in all Activities.
- Respect for law. A judge should respect and comply with the law and should act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
Canon 3: A Judge Should Perform the Duties of the Office Fairly, Impartially and Diligently.
(A)(1) A judge should be faithful to, and maintain professional competence in, the law and should not be swayed by partisan interests, public clamor, or fear of criticism.
A federal Magistrate Judge is considered a “judicial officer” of a U.S. District Court. He or she is appointed by the “active district judges” of the court. News reports say that Primono was appointed to the bench in 1988 by the judges in the Western District of Texas. No other information is available because the court’s website concerning Judge Primono has been taken down. What is known is that Judge Primono has been suspended from overseeing further citizenship ceremonies and the district judges are “meeting with him to decide how this matter can be resolved and concluded.”
Our nation is polarized enough and confidence in federal judiciary has been continually eroding. A 2015 Gallup poll revealed that public trust in the federal courts was at a “new low” of 53 percent—down from 76 percent just six years ago. The last thing the Texas federal judiciary needed during this heightened period of political distrust was a lecture from a federal judge about how he “detest” political protest and that if new citizens do not like what is taking place in the country, they should “go to another country.”
Such a lecture does not inspire confidence and trust in our federal judiciary.