Lost amid all the flurry regarding Arizona's new immigration law and Obama's efforts (with Republican assistance) to have the federal government run Wall Street has been the nomination of Federal District Judge Robert N. Chatigny to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. But you should care. A lot.
Why? Circuit court judges have a great deal of power and influence. Yet, this is a man who abused his power as a judge to help a rapist/serial killer, attempted to strike down the sex offender registry known as Megan's law (a decision later unanimously overturned by the Supreme Court) and sentenced child porn distributors well below the sentencing guideline range. In particular, his unethical handling of the case of "the Roadside Strangler," serial killer Michael B. Ross, is one of the most egregious displays of arrogance and abuse of power by any judge in recent memory.
And that doesn't even come close to giving you the full picture of just how out of touch this man is with both the American public and his responsibility to call balls and strikes as a judge. To do that, you need to read and/or view the following:
1. This clip detailing the horrific murders - by Michael Ross - of 8 young women, of whom at least 6 he violently raped;
2. A devastating letter from Michael O'Hare (PDF), the Assistant State's Attorney in Connecticut who represented the state in the challenge to Chatigny's death sentence, in which he details the long train of abuses by Chatigny - such as presiding over Ross' case despite having previously represented him, interrupting the state before it had finished to rule in favor of the murderer/rapist, berating and threatening Chatigny's defense lawyers for not filing against their client's wishes, and otherwise acting in appropriately; and
3. This video of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing held yesterday in which Senators Coburn, Kyl and Sessions asked Chatigny tough questions, and for which he had no good answers (see Daily Caller on topic, here), regarding not only the Ross case, but Chatigny's ruling against Megan's law and his pattern of giving low sentences to distributors of child pornography.
Unfortunately, despite these clearly disqualifying actions, characteristics and temperament, Chatigny may still be confirmed by the Senate because of blindly loyal democrats and the misguided efforts of former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who is calling Senators on Chatigny's behalf. Of course, as the Daily Caller notes, Mukasey’s former chief of staff at the Justice Department, Brian Benczkowski, is now staff director for Judiciary ranking member Sen. Jeff Sessions.
Mukasey was a colleague of Chatigny in the Second Circuit, and played a role in clearing Chatigny of any judicial misconduct. But the fact the judicial brotherhood sticks together is no great surprise and that he was cleared, even with substantial misgivings by his colleagues, is not grounds for Senators to ignore his abhorrent, arrogant behavior when considering his possible elevation.
Consider the facts of Michael Ross' crimes. As Senator Coburn noted in his questioning (see judiciary clip 49:15 to 51:30):
While in prison, Michael Ross participated in the creation of a documentary on serial killers entitled “The Serial Killers” during which he described in great detail how he raped and murdered eight women and girls. In the video Ross explains: “Serial killers like to strangle their victims and that is, I guess, the most common form of killing because there is more of a connection, it’s more real, and it’s not as quick.”
He later describes how he tied up Leslie Shelley (age 14) and put her in the trunk of his car and then: “took the other girl, April Bernaise (age 14), out and I raped her and killed her and I put her in the front seat.”
Then, he pulled Leslie Shelley out of the trunk and brutally killed her.
In describing his last victim, Wendy Baribeault (17), he said: “I raped her and I killed her. It wasn’t pleasant; it wasn’t a nice rape.”
Judge Chatigny, this is the man who you described as “the least culpable of the people on death row” and said the “he never should have been convicted. Or if convicted, he never should have been sentenced to death” and that “when [Ross] says, I feel that I’m the victim of a miscarriage of justice because they didn’t treat it as a mitigating factor, I can well understand where he’s coming from.”
Senator Sessions similarly raised questions during the hearing (see 95:30) about his comment "he should never have been convicted," or that he shouldn't have been sentenced to death because "sexual sadism" was not considered as a mitigating factor.
Consider further that, as Senator Sessions points out at 67:30 of the Judiciary Committee hearing, a competency hearing had been held and the Connecticut Supreme Court had upheld the death penalty in the Ross case, all prior to Judge Chatigny's improper and abusive actions as a federal judge. Specifically, according to the letter from the attorney representing Connecticut, as well as transcripts of a teleconference call and as pointed out by Senator Sessions and others in the Judiciary Committee hearing:
- Chatigny granted two motions to stay the execution of Ross, even though he had already been found competent by the state court (per above), and one of those orders was issued before the State had even finished its questioning;
- Judge Chatigny further excused Ross’s violent and deplorable crimes by arguing that his “sexual sadism … is clearly a mitigating factor.”
- In support of his position, Judge Chatigny cited his own personal experience touring the prison where Ross was being held “with an eye toward trying to grasp what its effect would be on the individual inmate.” He also cited the “abundant literature” supporting death row syndrome and asserted that “most European countries” recognize the syndrome to bolster his decision.
- Chatigny repeatedly pressured and threatened the defendant’s attorney to seek a new competency hearing and to seek further appeals despite the fact his client did not want either. In fact, when Ross’s lawyer insisted on following his client’s wishes not to appeal, Judge Chatigny declared that the attorney would be “the proximate cause” of Ross’s death and then threatened his law license stating: “So I warn you . . . you better be prepared to live with yourself for the rest of your life. And you better be prepared to deal with me because I'll have your law license. … What you’re doing is wrong.”
- Chatigny improperly sought to reach state court judges in the hours prior to the execution, despite the fact no pending motions were before him;
- Chatigny had represented the defendant 13 years before his meddling as a judge - an obvious conflict of interest - and he failed to disclose this conflict, claiming later that it has innocently slipped his memory. Senator Coburn properly points out at the Judiciary Committee hearing at 56:31 that it sure seems odd that the only death penalty case Chatigny worked in 25 years, involving a serial killer and rapist of 8 young women somehow just "slipped his mind."
Later in the hearing, at 85:00, Senator Kyl pursued the Ross case further, and Chatigny responded that he believes he "did the right thing but went about it the wrong way."
But his arrogance, activism and intervention goes much, much further than this one isolated (albeit sensational and important) case. At 89:54 of the Judiciary Commitee hearing, Senator Coburn asked Chatigny about his opinion saying that the Connecticut version of Megan's law (law that requires registration of sex offenders) was unconstitutional because it did not provide for a hearing - a decision that ultimately was overruled unanimously by the Supreme Court.
And, more, Senator Coburn notes at 109:50 in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that Chatigny has said (in a speech) "empathy" should be used in judicial decision-making, offering this in particular with respect to his criticism of mandatory minimums. The judge's responses are inconsistent at best - suggesting he would use empathy for sentencing, but not in judging.
Finally, Judge Chatigny sentenced a defendant convicted of possessing and trading child pornography to less than half of the time recommended by the sentencing guidelines, and he did this kind of thing in numerous cases (at least 6 or 7).
Judges matter. This judge has acted irresponsibly, arrogantly and seemingly unethically. He should not be confirmed to the Second Circuit - yet, he most likely will be confirmed because Democrats will blindly defend him and some Republicans will ignore the many reasons to vote against him.
And thus is the state of our future Judiciary.