Chatigny Hearing Postponed

The Senate Judiciary Committee postponed a hearing on district court judge Robert Chatigny, a nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, due to allegations he acted improperly in trying to stop the execution of Michael Ross, aka “The Roadside Strangler,” who was convicted of murdering four women, and confessed to raping and murdering even more. reports:

Chatigny stunned those involved in the serial killer case in early 2005 by pressuring Ross’ attorney on a conference call to challenge his scheduled execution even though Ross had said he did not want to fight. 

The judge had raised concerns about whether Ross was mentally unfit and whether prison isolation had led to despair — at the time of the conference call, federal appeals courts had overturned two prior orders from him postponing the execution. 

According to a transcript of that Jan. 28 call, the judge threatened to go after the law license of Ross’ attorney, T.R. Paulding. . . .

“So I warn you, Mr. Paulding, between now and whatever happens Sunday night, you better be prepared to live with yourself for the rest of your life,” Chatigny said. “And you better be prepared to deal with me if in the wake of this an investigation is conducted and it turns out that what Lopez says and what this former program director says is true, because I’ll have your law license.” 

Ramon Lopez was an inmate who had written a letter to Chatigny saying Ross had been brainwashed by mental health professionals. . . .

On the conference call, the judge repeatedly stuck up for Ross, saying he suffered from “this affliction, this terrible disease” and suggesting Ross “may be the least culpable, the least, of the people on death row.” . . .

In the end, the execution was temporarily delayed and ultimately carried out. But in the aftermath, seven prosecutors from Connecticut filed a complaint against the judge with the Judicial Council of the Second Circuit. Among the complaints were that the judge had threatened Paulding and that he had not disclosed that in 1992 he filed an application to file a legal brief in support of Ross’ appeal — though the judge never ended up filing that brief. He was later cleared of misconduct. 

This year, in a letter dated March 5 to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and Sessions, one of those prosecutors wrote that Chatigny’s actions in the run-up to the execution “call into question his suitability” for the Court of Appeals seat. 

“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,” wrote Michael O’Hare, an assistant state’s attorney in Connecticut. He described the Jan. 28 conference call as a “tirade” in which the judge was “threatening and intimidating” others.

Senator Leahy agreed to postpone the hearing at the reuqest of Senate Republicans after receiving the prosecutor’s letter.

Jonathan H. Adler — Jonathan H. Adler teaches courses in environmental, administrative, and constitutional law at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

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