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“Sorry” Doesn’t Cut It: Abuse of Power Should Not Be Rewarded

By September 29, 2010Legal
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Robert Chatigny, President Obama’s nominee to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, is still expecting a vote in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

Chatigny is the infamous judge who abused his position as a judge to advocate for serial rapist and murderer Michael Ross, a.k.a. the “Roadside Strangler.” Chatingy’s actions in that case were so egregious that state prosecutors filed ethics complaint against him.

The Roadside Strangler was convicted of kidnapping, raping, and murdering six Connecticut young women ages 15-25. He actually admits to killing two more for a total of eight and said that he liked strangling his victims because “there is more of a connection, it’s more real, and it’s not as quick.”

Yet Judge Chatigny advocated so strongly for this serial rapist and murderer that he actually told prosecutors the Roadside Strangler was the “least culpable person on death row” and that he “never should have been convicted.” His reasoning was that “sexual sadism” was “clearly a mitigating factor.” To that point Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) asked him at the hearings, “Can you site any authority in which sexual sadism has been defined as a mitigating factor?” Chatigny, of course, could not.

The Roadside Strangler himself did not want to appeal his conviction and when his attorney tried to follow his client’s wishes, Chatigny went so far as to threaten him with his law license. Again, Sen. Sessions asked him about this at the hearings and Chatigny himself agreed that this was totally inappropriate for him to do.

As if Judge Chatigny’s improper behavior during the case was not enough, after the case concluded, prosecutors discovered Chatigny had actually been involved previously with the Roadside Strangler, having requested to file a brief on behalf of the serial rapist and murderer. But Judge Chatigny failed to mention this while he oversaw the case as a supposed “impartial” arbitror and simply said he “forgot.”

One of the prosecutors involved in the case wrote a powerful letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee with a detailed account of the events and concluded with the follwing:

Judge Chatigny’s actions while presiding over the habeas corpus petition and the 1983 action constituted judicial misconduct for four reasons. First, Judge Chatigny completely abandoned the role of neutral and detached magistrate and instead became an advocate for the position held by the parties who were seeking to stop the execution of Michael Ross. Second, Judge Chatigny’s attempt to direct the manner in which Attorney Paulding advised his client constituted blatant interference with Michael Ross’s constitutional right to representation by counsel of his choice. Third, after having been reversed by higher courts, Judge Chatigny chose to defy those rulings and effectively overturn them through the use of threats and intimidation. Finally, Judge Chatigny’s failure to disqualify himself from a case in which he had participated as an attorney, or at least notify the parties of his prior participation, violated the requirements of 28 U.S.C. 455(b). These actions certainly call into questions Judge Chatigny’s fitness to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Judge Chatigny himself recognizes he was completely out of line in this case, as evidenced by his many apologies during his hearings. But sorry doesn’t cut it.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) asked the question that has permeated this entire nomination: “I just wondered why you think your behavior in this case, which is pretty extraordinary -I’ve only sat on this committee for five years-why that behavior would warrant a promotion to a much more senior court?” Exactly.

And this case is not the only questionable action of Judge Chatigny. He has a track record of being lenient in sex crime cases, repeatedly issuing sentences that were less than the sentencing guidelines recommended. In one case, a 27-year old man lured a 15-year old girl through an online website, travelled across state lines to get her, brought her back to his state to have sexual relations with her, and dropped her off at the town library. The sentencing guidelines called for 57-71 months, but Chatigny gave him only 36 months, in part, because the defendant said he regretted it and it only happened once.

Of the 12 child porn cases Judge Chatigny handled, he issued a sentence of less than the minimum on eight of them and the minimum on the other four.

Does President Obama seriously believe that, out of all the judges available for him to elevate to such an important position, Judge Chatigny’s record is best? Seriously?

Remember, the President not only nominated Judge Chatigny, but he renominated him after his nomination posed so much trouble it was sent back to him for reconsideration before the Senate’s last recess.

If you take politics aside, any reasonable person, including Democrats and even Chatigny himself, can see why this judge should have never been nominated to this position. But politics are all over the judicial nomination process and Democrats are in a tough position because they want to be loyal to their President and their party, especially in an election year.

They are so desperate Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pennsylvania) even resorted to personal conversations at the latest judiciary committee meeting to justify voting for him. He said, “I got a call from a very distinguished judge on the 2nd Circuit, Judge Jon Newman Judge Newman speaks very highly of Judge Chatigny, and I have great confidence in Judge Newman.” I guess that does it then.

Meanwhile, the American people see this for what it is: just another example of the establishment playing politics and forgetting about what is in the best interest of “we the people.” We are left praying, once again, that some senator somewhere would put politics aside and stand up to their own leadership to say, “this is wrong, I cannot support it.”

Because there is not a more clear cut case than this. How much more must a judge abuse his power before Senators decline to promote him?