Federal Court Judges Given Broader Power

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The U.S. Supreme Court gave federal judges more power Thursday to punish non-lawyers who abuse the judicial system, ruling that the punishment can include ordering someone to pay the other side's lawyer fees. The 5-4 decision upheld a $1 million sanction against a Louisiana television station's ex-owner. The justices said a federal judge in Alexandria, La., acted within his "inhe- rent power" when he ordered the ex- owner to pay all the legal fees incurred by a Tennessee corporation that sued him for breach of contract. The high court has recognized since 1812 the inherent power _ free from any federal law or rule _ of federal judges to hold people in contempt, discipline lawyers or even investigate suspected fraud on the courts. But the justices never before had ruled that such inherent power extends to the awarding of lawyer fees as sanctions, or that such awards may be ordered by a federal judge in a state that does not give its state judges such power. Allowing such sanctions, Justice Byron R. White wrote for the court, serves "the dual purpose of vindicating judicial authority ... and making the prevailing party whole for expenses caused by his opponent's obstinacy." White was joined by Justices Thur- good Marshall, Harry A. Blackmun, Sandra Day O'Connor and John Paul Stevens. Chief Justice William H. …


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