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Court watchdog files complaint against a judge who ordered ‘religious-liberty training’ for lawyers

Aug 16, 2023, 11:38 AM

File - A Southwest Airlines passenger arrives to check-in at the Des Moines International Airport, ...

File - A Southwest Airlines passenger arrives to check-in at the Des Moines International Airport, April 18, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. A federal judge has set off a debate among legal scholars by ordering lawyers for Southwest Airlines to undergo "religious-liberty training" by a conservative Christian legal group. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

A court watchdog has filed a complaint against the federal judge who ordered “religious-liberty training” for a trio of Southwest Airlines lawyers as part of their punishment for not fully following his orders in a case involving speech about abortion.

The leader of Fix the Court says U.S. District Judge Brantley Starr’s choice of training conducted by a Christian legal-advocacy group is “strange and unprecedented.”

Fix the Court, a small, nonpartisan group known mostly for monitoring the U.S. Supreme Court, filed the judicial-misconduct petition Tuesday with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeal in New Orleans.

The group’s executive director, Gabe Roth, took particular aim at the Dallas judge’s selection of Alliance Defending Freedom to conduct day-long training for three Southwest lawyers in a case involving a flight attendant who said she was fired for comments objecting to abortion. The conservative ADF has represented clients opposing abortion, same-sex marriages and transgender rights.

Roth said ethics training would have been fine, but the judge should not have ordered training run by any organization tied to a particular faith.

“Starr’s order sets a dangerous precedent, and he deserves sanctions himself for this awful judgment call,” he said.

The judge ordered the training after Southwest changed the language of a notice that he ordered sent to employees to explain the legal prohibition against religious discrimination.

Southwest, based in Dallas, has appealed the sanctions order and the trial victory of the fired flight attendant. A jury awarded her $5.1 million from Southwest and her union, but Starr reduced the award to about $800,000.

Former President Donald Trump nominated Starr for the bench in 2019.

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Court watchdog files complaint against a judge who ordered ‘religious-liberty training’ for lawyers