Judge’s ‘tone, animosity’ toward legal department targeted in Metro’s Villegas appeal

Monday, April 2, 2012 at 10:05pm

In Metro’s appeal of the outcome in the much-publicized Juana Villegas case, its attorneys question the judge’s alleged “pattern of unjustified animosity toward” Metro as a key leg to its argument.

U.S. District Court Judge William Haynes has a “history of an adversarial relationship with Metro attorneys,” according to a Metro brief filed March 30, kicking off its appeal in the polarizing case that pitted the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office against immigrant advocates.

Further, Metro claims Haynes exhibited “unfair treatment” and an “increasingly threatening tone” to Metro lawyers before he reached his verdict nearly one year ago.

Villegas is the undocumented Mexican mother of four, whom the sheriff’s office detained in 2008 as part of its implementation of the federal 287(g) program following a routine traffic stop in Berry Hill. She subsequently went into labor and was shackled to a hospital bed in the hours before and after childbirth, triggering a lawsuit against Metro that garnered national attention.

Haynes, the federal judge, granted summary judgment last April in favor of Villegas, the plaintiff, ruling that the sheriff office’s actions violated her civil rights granted in the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause. In August, a seven-member jury awarded Villegas $200,000 in damages, far less than the $1.2 million her lawyers sought. Nonetheless, Metro had decided months before that it would appeal.

“When the summary judgment came down, we were going to appeal it anyway,” Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall said at the time.

Metro’s formal appeal in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals arrived late Friday in the form of a 74-page brief. Villegas’ attorneys have until May 2 to reply.

Attorney Phillip Cramer, representing Villegas, told The City Paper his response would be addressed in the forthcoming brief.

Metro cites two previous cases — one in 2008, the other in 2009 — to suggest Haynes has a track record of hostility toward Metro. Both cases represent instances in which Haynes set aside prior jury rulings that had favored Metro after finding Metro attorneys had engaged in “misconduct.”

The recently filed Metro brief also points to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ “unusual decision” in 2010 to reassign Haynes from a case that challenged Tennessee’s TennCare program, John B. v. Goetz.

“For years, this District Court judge has improperly attacked the motives of Metro attorneys and accused them of misconduct,” Metro’s appellate brief in the Villegas case reads. “And the District Judge’s treatment of Metro’s counsel has been patently unfair.”

The brief discusses moments of friction between Haynes and lead Metro attorney on the Villegas case, Kevin Klein, during last summer’s trial. In one instance, Haynes interrupted one of the plaintiff’s witnesses to clarify a statement.

“[The witness] then provided further clarification in response to the Judge’s comments, to which Mr. Klein innocuously said ‘thank you for that clarification,’ ” Metro’s brief reads. “Judge Haynes then sent the jury out and reprimanded Mr. Klein for attempting to ‘curry favor with the jury.’ ”

Metro’s targeting of Haynes in its appeal was perhaps predicable. In fact, Metro attorneys asked Haynes to recuse himself on the first day of the August trial.

Some courtroom observers came away with the feeling that Metro’s legal team actively tried to antagonize Haynes.

Haynes, according to an August Nashville Scene account, had described Klein’s actions as “mystifying.” Haynes’ April summary judgment had prohibited any mention of Villegas’ illegal immigration status, yet Klein repeatedly alluded to the issue. Rebuked for crossing that line, Metro attorneys were left targeting the credibility of Villegas herself, which drew further criticism from Haynes.

In making its appeal, Metro has also tried to raise arguments that didn’t find traction in Haynes’ court.

The brief takes exception with Haynes’ decision to exclude testimony from two Metro witnesses, including Bennett Spetalnick, director of obstetrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Spetalnick had opined that the shackles placed on Villegas “did not enhance [Villegas’] medical risks nor did she suffer excessive pain,” according to the Metro brief.

Metro also claims Haynes improperly excluded evidence regarding Villegas’ threatened deportation, which Metro claims was her real “source of depression and anxiety,” as opposed to her being shackled before giving birth. The judge excluded Metro’s expert neuropsychologist who had supported this claim.

11 Comments on this post:

By: govskeptic on 4/3/12 at 5:32

It's not just Mr. Klein this Judge has treated unfairly, but any attorney
representing Metro in cases or causes that are contrary to that of
this very agenda driven Federal Judge! Disrespect and intimidation
by Judge Haynes toward these attorneys is evident to anyone, attorney
or not, in the courtroom on often small issues before the court. The
summary judgement in this case in favor of the Plaintiff was outrageous!

By: MetalMan on 4/3/12 at 2:27

1. Haynes has a "little man complex."
2. Haynes is an arrogant racist and hates whitey and authority figures.
3. Haynes is a Clinton apointee and as liberal as you can get.

By: wasaw on 4/3/12 at 7:25

On January 1980, I was a defendant in our local federal court, and stood before now deceased federal Judge L. Clure Morton. It was evident early on that Morton had an obvious bias toward the city (I was only a pawn in the show). The jury later found me unanimously "NOT GUILTY". I was admonished never to return to his courtroom. For some reason, I was so happy not to have been tried by Morton. He was notoriously known to be biased.

By: jsnap on 4/3/12 at 9:56

You only have to follow trials in his court to see he is a wield judge. That is the problem with a judge appointed for life, you get a big, big problem and so much money is wasted .

By: Ask01 on 4/4/12 at 2:21

Why are we so surprised when an individual, granted almost unquestioned authority, abandons any pretense of impartiality, and allows personal feelings and agendas to to guide their decision making process?

In a perfect world, those appointed to such positions would be of the highest moral character, totally impartial, and possessing a knowledge of the law, tempered with compassion and the highest order of common sense.

We don't live in a perfect world.

Recent events involving those sitting on the bench have exposed glaring character flaws on the part of those entrusted with justice which would find mere mortals most likely arrested, fined, and incarcerated.

I don't pretend to be smart enough to know exactly what should be done, but I do realize we as a society need to establish more rigid accountability for the judicial branch and in fact, our entire justice system from the prosecutors to law enforcement.

By: Jughead on 4/4/12 at 6:59

Haynes is inept, and he has never met a liberal cause he doesn't embrace.

By: wasaw on 4/4/12 at 8:22

Ask01, you hit the nail right on the head! I wish I'd have written it.

By: T-BONE on 4/4/12 at 11:20

Villegas, Another Catholic popping out baby's like "Jackrabbits" ?

By: Bellecat on 4/4/12 at 12:07

Haynes is one of the activist judges using the bench to promote his own agenda. Villegas should never have gotten a dime. What has our country come to when people who are in our country illegally committing crimes can sue and be awarded money? She would never have been in shackles anyway had she not been a criminal. I am disgusted by this whole scenario.

By: wasaw on 4/5/12 at 5:59

Bellecat, like Ask01, you also hit it out of the park. Do you think these illegals sit around and brain-storm on how they can rip the American tax payer off? We have become the laughing stock of the word. It's really sorry that this baby making machine was SO traumitized by the shackles on her wrist during her time of delivery.

I'd like to write more but I need another box of tissues to wipe away my tears, for this poor illegal..

By: 1kenthomas on 4/5/12 at 11:55

Oh Lord David!

She was shakled to a post during childbirth. You can't get much more discusting than that, unless you shoot innocent civilians in the head without thinking about it.

The officers that did it should be sitting in a cell with the New Orleans officers who were convicted yesterday.

Good luck with that appeal, "Metro."