Rep. Poe Accuses Obama Nominee Of Pro-Sex Offender Bias

June 24, 2010 3:53 pm ET — Alan Pyke

On the House floor yesterday, Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) smeared Judge Robert Chatigny as pro-sex offender. Judge Chatigny's nomination to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 10 on a party line vote after committee Republicans seized on Chatigny's role in the execution of Connecticut serial killer Michael Ross to argue against confirmation.  Poe echoed that line of attack, and abandoned the facts of the case in the process.

Judge Ted Poe

"Finally," Rep. Poe said, "the day of reckoning came in 2004, he's supposed to get executed, and this federal judge intervenes in this case. And the judge excused the killer because he suffered from what the judge said [was] a disorder of sexual sadism." Poe, himself a former judge from the state that executed a mentally impaired man in December, is guilty of a vast misrepresentation of the facts here.

The case is easy political fodder. As the New York Times reported in 2005, Michael Ross was convicted in 1987 after he "admitted to killing eight girls and young women in the early 1980's and raping most of his victims before he murdered them." Ross was sentenced to death. The case came to Chatigny's bench in 2005 after a flurry of appeals claiming that Ross was not mentally competent to choose execution.

Poe is wrong when he says Chatigny "intervened" in the case and "excused" Ross's conduct. In fact, Chatigny presided over a last-minute appeal of Ross's sentence — he did not seek the case out — and insisted on a final competence finding because doubts had been raised about the killer's mental fitness. The Hartford Courant explains (via Lexis):

After a court-ordered psychiatric exam, Judge Patrick Clifford deemed Ross competent to waive his appeals. Ross' execution date of Jan. 26, 2005, was postponed several times because of a flurry of last-minute appeals, including one to Chatigny that included newly discovered evidence that Ross might be incompetent.

On the afternoon of Jan. 28 — approximately 11 hours before Ross was scheduled to die by lethal injection at 2 a.m. Jan. 29 — Chatigny began a telephone conference with [Ross's attorney T.R.] Paulding and other lawyers and prosecutors involved in the case. During the call, Chatigny told Paulding he was "way out on a limb." He also told Paulding, "What you are doing is terribly, terribly wrong. No matter how well motivated you are, you have a client whose competence is in serious doubt and you don't even know what you're talking about."

Finally, Chatigny told Paulding that if evidence that Ross was incompetent surfaced after his execution, "I'll have your law license."

A panel of three judges — including future Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey — investigated Chatigny's alleged threat to go after the defense attorney's law license. They concluded that there was no misconduct, and that while "Judge Chatigny's actions were unusual...the circumstances thrust on him called for unusual action."  The Courant again:

Chief U.S. District Judge Robert N. Chatigny, who threatened to go after a lawyer's license in the emotionally charged hours leading up to the state's first execution in 45 years, has been cleared of misconduct by a review panel of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.

"Without doubt, Judge Chatigny's actions were unusual," a special committee consisting of three judges concluded. "But in the judge's reasonable view, the circumstances thrust on him called for unusual action. ..."

[...]

"We are persuaded, however, that the judge's actions were not motivated by any bias in favor of Ross or against the death penalty but only by the judge's reasonable perception that the discharge of his own judicial duty ... required that he take forceful steps on Ross' behalf."

Poe also slandered Chatigny as "a criminal sympathizer" because of his decision that Connecticut's online registry of sex offenders was unconstitutional. Poe claimed Chatigny was protecting rapists and molesters because "it hurts their little feelings that they have to register on a sexual database." Again, Poe is speaking from an alternate reality.

According to the New York Times, Chatigny held that the registry law "violated due process rights by not allowing sex offenders the chance to prove that they were not dangerous and therefore did not belong on the registry."

Nowhere — except Ted Poe's mind — did Chatigny put convicts' "little feelings" over public safety. Nowhere — except Ted Poe's mind — did Chatigny make the perverse claim that Ross's "sexual sadism" should excuse his crimes. Ted Poe says these things because they are outrageous, not because they're true. Of course, Poe is not interested in the truth, but rather in smearing an Obama nominee and condemning Chatigny as a judge who favors sex offenders.

The president has nominated someone who protects due process even when the "optics" are bad — i.e., when the claimants are convicted sex offenders. Isn't this relentless impartiality without regard for the emotional tenor of a case precisely what Republicans claim to want on the bench?

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