Precinct 333

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Impeachment For Judge In Ross Case?

Several weeks ago I commented on the bid by the ACLU to stop the execution of Connecticut death row inmate Michael Ross. Now there is a bid to impeach one of the judges involved in the case, U.S. District Judge Robert Chatigny, on grounds of partiality and improper behavior. Congressman Rob Simmons (R-Conn.) has delivered a letter from Republicans in the Connecticut statehouse to House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) requesting an investigation, which has begun.

“He has exhibited behaviors and decisions that directly contradict the role of an impartial judiciary,” the three-page letter said of Chatigny, adding, “Such abuses of judicial powers should not and must not be tolerated. We strongly urge your committee to investigate the matter fully, and to commence proceedings to redress this misconduct, including the possible removal from office.”

Ross had fired his defense team and hired a lawyer to expedite the proceedings after 24 years of court proceedings to determine his guilt and punishment, as well as challenging the death penalty. At that point the ACLU intervened, ostensibly on behalf of Ross' father.

Finally, on Jan. 24[, 2005], Chatigny, who had not been presiding over the case, issued a stay of execution, which was followed by a flurry of appeals.

Four days after his initial stay, Chatigny held a conference call with lawyers from both sides to discuss a letter sent to the court by a fellow inmate of Ross’s arguing that Ross had lost his sanity while in prison and was not mentally competent to ask the court for his own execution.

During this call, Chatigny challenged Ross’s lawyer, T.R. Paulding, who was hired to expedite Ross’s execution, to follow up on the inmate’s insanity claim. When Paulding equivocated, Chatigny berated him, at one point saying, “You better be prepared to deal with me if in the wake of this an investigation is conducted and it turns out that what [the inmate] says and what this former program director says is true, because I’ll have your license.”

In other words, Chatigny intervened in the attorney-client relationship to the point that he ordered Paulding to act contrary to the desires and directions of his client. What's more, he threatened the man's career if he didn't follow the judge's directives to act contrary to his client's wishes and directives. In effect, the judge's order prohibited the attorney from being an advocate for his client, and turned the case from an adversary proceeding into a virtual conspiracy to thwart that client's pursuit of what he believed to be his interests. That intervention in the attorney-client relationship certainly approaches unethical conduct, if it does not cross the line. Furthermore, indicates a partiality that is unfitting in a judge.

This case bears watching, as it could be the beginning of a trend towards holding biased and activist judges accountable for their malfeasance while on the bench.


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