Zenon v. Guzman, No. 3:16 -cv- 30129- MAP (D. Mass.) January 8, 2018. Zenon v. Commonwealth, 473 Mass. 1028, 44 N.E.3d 858 (2016).
Abinel Zenon claimed self-defense to a criminal charge that he assaulted a court officer during the course of adjudication of a charge of driving with a suspended license. Zenon obtained some information about others’ allegations that the same court officer had used excessive force against others. The state court entered protective orders limiting discussion and discovery of other claims against the officer, although some information and interviewing was provided and permitted.
An order of continuance without a finding terminated the criminal case against Zenon, but the protective orders continued in effect beyond the conclusion of the criminal matter.
Zenon alleged in federal court that the state court judge’s protective orders limiting discussion and discovery violated his First Amendment rights. The United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts observed that it is clear that the Eleventh Amendment is no bar to federal jurisdiction of free speech claims against state officials; neither would collateral estoppel preclude federal litigation, as the state court never addressed Zenon’s First Amendment claims
Zenon did not fare as well when his claims were reviewed under other federal jurisdictional doctrines. Younger abstention cautions against federal intrusion in ongoing state matters. Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971). Similarly, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine precludes those disappointed in state court from seeking federal review. District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 463 (1983); Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923). Neither could any procedural bar to the assertion of judicial immunity be found, for the issuance of protective orders is the very sort of fundamental judicial act to which such immunity ordinarily attaches.
Restraint from federal intervention is all the more important where the state’s Supreme Judicial Court has indicated that Zenon may seek review in the state system, by moving to modify or vacate the protective orders at the conclusion of the state criminal proceedings, and challenging any unfavorable result by direct appeal.