MisJudged

U.S. District Court Judge Carl Muecke ruled on the letter of the law, but his liberal views and tough courtroom style made him the judge that conservatives love to hate

Early in 1995, Symington and the State of Arizona tried to file a friend-of-the-court brief in favor of the Forest Service, but Muecke would not allow it because there were not sufficient legal grounds for the state to interfere. Finally, on August 24, he stopped logging altogether until the Forest Service complied with the law and produced a Biological opinion on the spotted owl.

A week later, on August 31, 400 loggers in their trucks converged on Phoenix to protest the injunction.

Symington told the Gazette, "People are very angry over this arbitrary use of federal power. It's the very kind of thing that incites people to disrespect their government.

"I think we're looking at probably some civil disobedience in this particular action."

Muecke was hanged in effigy by loggers.
He felt that the U.S. Forest Service's refusal to follow court orders mandated the injunction, but he agonized over its consequences.

"He was so worried about the impact and not getting this resolved because of political posturing that he became even more stern than ever," says Mary Wade. "He wanted the defendants to comply with the law, which is not unreasonable, and he wanted the plaintiffs to compromise to the extent they could."

He asked the environmentalists to set aside a list of projects that would keep the lumber mills and other forest industries operating, with no environmental risks; they came up with about 1,000. But none of the exempted projects was ever logged, because the rhetoric of the shutdown was apparently more valuable to the logging companies and the politicians than the timber. And if they were, in fact, working, they would have appeared to the public far less damaged by the judge's decision.

"He found it stressful to think of the impact on those communities and both sides not working it out," Wade continues. "In his mind, this was the law. Has the Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service complied with the law? No, they haven't. I think it affected his health."

Unbeknownst to anyone but his friends and his law clerks, during those stressful months of legal points and counterpoints, Muecke was in fact lying flat on his back recovering from major spinal surgery, unable to travel to his courtroom.

"We would have to go to the house and work up there at the kitchen table," says Mary Wade. "He was unable to walk adequately, to his mind. He is 79, but he sees himself as a Marine, so to come to the courthouse in a walker just wasn't going to do."

Instead, he would call his clerks as frequently as 10 times a day, and would dictate his decisions to them.

Partially because of his failing health, he recused himself from the contempt charges against ADOC director Sam Lewis.

"I was lying in bed when that whole issue came up about the special masters," Muecke says. "I couldn't get up. I had to be careful with my back. I said to myself, 'This is crazy. This is something that has to be hand done. I have to be in court. I have to face these people and I can't do it.'"

The case passed to Judge David Ezra from the District of Hawaii, who was chosen as an impartial outsider.

Despite his crippling surgery, in September 1995, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asked Muecke to come to San Francisco for a week to help with its case load. And though his clerks say that the week was very draining on his poor health, the old Marine went anyway, because he had been asked to.

In October, Judge Ezra ruled that ADOC director Sam Lewis had in fact been in contempt of the court.

Symington spoke out.
"Once again, judicial power is imposed in this state in favor of criminals and against the state officials who have the responsibility of dealing with them," he said in an official statement. "Whether they are juveniles or adults, the criminals of America have found too many faithful friends among judges."

Ezra's decision was upheld by the court of appeals.
Meanwhile, on November 29, 1995, Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods argued the Casey case on prison libraries before the U.S. Supreme Court.

A week later, bowing to pressure, Sam Lewis resigned.
Muecke was being pressured to resign, as well, not only by the press and the governor, but by his wife, who was understandably tired of the fight and the toll it was taking on her husband.

"He did not want to quit, because he believes in what he was doing," says Mary Wade. "I think he had a hard time letting go."

Muecke's longtime friend Herb Ely says, "I saw a somewhat increased hostility and frustration because he clearly thought the attacks on him in doing what he thought the Constitution mandated him to do were unfair and were difficult to answer."

Although the state law forbidding payment of special masters had been knocked down, Senator Jon Kyl had managed to pass federal legislation to the same effect.

Shortly after, on June 6, Muecke recused himself from Gluth, Casey and Hook, the three prison cases.

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