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President Obama’s Most Controversial Nominee

On February 4, 2010, President Obama nominated Judge Robert N. Chatigny to be elevated to the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.  From the President’s press release on the subject: 

Judge Robert Neil Chatigny has served as a U.S. District Judge for the District of Connecticut since 1994.  He was Chief Judge of the Court from 2003 to 2009.  Judge Chatigny is being nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The Senate Judiciary Committee discharged the nomination of Judge Chatigny last week on a 11-7 vote, with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) abstaining, sending the nomination to the full Senate.  Below is a video taken from Chantigny’s hearing and interviews done with Chatigny while incarcerated. 

WARNING:  This video documenting Judge Chatigny’s actions in presiding over a murder trial and during subsequent appeals for Michael Ross, the “Roadside Strangler,” is disturbing, yet important to watch in full to understand the case being made against the President’s nominee.  Please be aware that during the interview with Ross, some very disturbing elements of his crime and his fantasies about his serial killings are discussed in graphic detail.


According to CNS News the case against Judge Chatigny for being confirmed by the United States Senate centers on the murder trial of Michael Ross, who in January 2005 was slated to be the first person executed in Connecticut in more than four decades, and his leniency with other sex offenders:

U.S. District Judge Robert Chatigny of Connecticut took what many considered extraordinary judicial actions in 2005 to prevent the execution of a serial killer, and the judge also has a record of lenient sentencing for sex offenders.

The Senate may consider this nomination in the near future and this calls into question the President’s “Empathy Standard.”  Now, the President may have not been fully aware of the serious allegations against Judge Chatigny when the nomination was sent to the Senate.  Yet this Administration can’t plead ignorance after testimony of Judge Chatigny and debate last week preceding the vote of the full Senate Judiciary Committee.  The President described his Empathy Standard as follows in a press briefing on May 1, 2009 after being notified of Justice David Souter’s resignation:

I will seek someone who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a casebook; it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives, whether they can make a living and care for their families, whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation. I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people’s hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes.”

This is the President’s own description of the Empathy Standard.  One would hope that this Empathy Standard is not used as a pre-text by judges to substitute their own judgement for the written law of the land.  Furthermore, now that information has been presented in an open hearing that calls into question Chatigny’s version of the Empathy Standard, the President should have second thoughts about the nomination.

The CNS News story describes the Michael Ross case as follows:

After Ross, who killed eight women ages 14-25, decided to drop all appeals and be executed, the state’s public defender office argued that he was not competent to make that decision – despite previous competency evaluations that showed he was capable.  Ross then fired his public defenders and hired a private attorney, T.R. Paulding, who had the unusual role of defending his client’s right to be executed.  After the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in Ross’ favor to proceed with the execution, the public defender’s office brought its case to U.S. District Court, with Chatigny presiding. Chatigny ruled in favor of the public defenders’ argument that Ross had “death row syndrome,” which means the conditions on death row are so unpleasant it caused depression and made him want to die, thus he wasn’t capable of making a life or death decision on his own. 

After losing in the Connecticut Supreme Court, one would think that Judge Chatigny would stand down, yet he acted as if he was emotionally invested in getting Ross out of the death penalty.

The case moved quickly to the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned Chatigny’s decision and ruled in favor of executing Ross in January 2005. Before the high court even ruled, Chatigny spoke to Paulding, Ross’ attorney, in a conference call.  Judge Chatigny said Ross “never should have been convicted, or if convicted, he never should have been sentenced to death,” according to news accounts citing the transcript of the conference call. Chatigny went on to tell Ross’ lawyer, “You better be prepared to deal with me” and, “I’ll have your law license.”  After the call, Paulding asked to postpone the execution. The state of Connecticut had to comply, just as it would have if Ross had asked for an appeal.  After a six-day competency hearing, a state Superior Court judge ruled in April 2005 that Ross was competent to forgo his appeals. He was subsequently executed on May 2005.

Threats issued by Judge Chatigny are beyond the pale.  Even if Judge Chatigny opposes the Death Penalty, he should have respected the will of the Courts in confirming the death sentence of Michael Ross.  Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) said of the nomination:

This judge demonstrated this case was about him and not about the victims or the defendant.

hogan wrote on Red State in April that Chanigny “has acted irresponsibly, arrogantly and seemingly unethically” as a federal district judge.  hogan’s excellent post further discusses the rational for the Senate to reject Chatigny’s nomination.

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) argued against Chatigny last week and spoke of his objections to Judge Chatigny being elevated to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals:

 

Presumably, this controversy ends if the President withdraws the nomination of Judge Robert N. Chatigny to be elevated to the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.  Alternatively, the Senate may just refuse to schedule a vote on this nomination hoping that this controversy goes away.  If this nomination moves forward, in the light of the evidence presented against Judge Chatigny, this will call into question the President’s version of the Empathy Standard and his judgement in the types of people he is willing to send to the United States Senate for confirmation to the federal courts.

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