Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson stated that appeals court nominee Judge Robert Chatigny "gained notoriety" for "fight[ing] the execution of convicted serial killer and rapist Michael Ross," adding that "[s]ome are concerned he may be biased in favor of sex offenders." However, an appeals court panel -- which included former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey -- found that Chatigny's actions in the case were "reasonable" and "not motivated by any bias."
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Carlson: "Some are concerned that he may be biased in favor of sex offenders"
Carlson: "Some are concerned" Chatigny "may be biased in favor of sex offenders." On the March 10 Fox & Friends, Carlson reported that "today's hearing for Judge Robert Chatigny now postponed after a prosecutor from his home state called him a 'judicial loose cannon.' " Carlson added: "Chatigny gained notoriety five years ago for trying to fight the execution of convicted serial killer and rapist Michael Ross, known as 'The Roadside Strangler.' Some are concerned he may be biased in favor of sex offenders."
Fox News.com: "Republicans are taking a hard look at Chatigny's role in the Ross proceedings which they say could be disqualifying." A March 9 FoxNews.com article reported, that Chatigny's Senate hearing was postponed "after the panel received a letter from a home-state prosecutor blasting the candidate as a judicial loose cannon and after Republicans raised concerns about bias in favor of sex offenders." The article further stated that "Republicans are taking a hard look at Chatigny's role in the Ross proceedings which they say could be disqualifying." Despite noting that Chatigny was ultimately "cleared of misconduct," the FoxNews.com article quoted Michael O'Hare, a Connecticut assistant state's attorney, stating that "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." The headline of the article asserted that Chatigny "supported serial killer":
Appeals court panel found Chatigny's actions "reasonable" and "not motivated by any bias"
In 2005 conference call, Chatigny strongly expressed concern that Ross' lawyer was not sufficiently investigating evidence regarding Ross' mental competency. In 1987, Michael Ross was found guilty of the murder of four of the eight women he confessed to killing. The New York Times reported that Ross "did not fight the state's execution plans. He has said repeatedly that he is prepared to die -- that he hoped his death would ease the pain of his victims' relatives -- and he repeatedly waived his rights to appeal." The Times reported that others had argued that "Mr. Ross is simply masking a desire to commit suicide." On January 29, 2005, the Hartford Courant reported that during a conference call hours before Ross' scheduled execution, Chatigny "in often brutally frank language, made it clear he thought Paulding [Ross' lawyer] should be doing more" (accessed via Nexis):
With the hours counting down on Michael Ross' life, Chief U.S. District Judge Robert N. Chatigny initiated an extraordinary telephone conference call Friday afternoon in which he pleaded with Ross' attorney to make sure that in supporting his client's determination to die, he wasn't making "the biggest mistake of [his] life.''
"What you are doing is terribly, terribly wrong,'' Chatigny told attorney T.R. Paulding, who has maintained that Ross is clear-headed and voluntarily choosing death. "No matter how well motivated you are, you have a client whose competence is in serious doubt and you don't know what you're talking about.
"I see this happening and I can't live with it myself, which is why I'm on the phone right now. It's wrong. What you're doing is wrong.''
Alternating between pleas and threats, Chatigny chastised Paulding's representation, saying a lawyer for a death-row inmate has an obligation to try to persuade him to fight for his life.
"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,'' the judge said. "And you better be prepared to deal with me if in the wake of this an investigation is conducted.''
Chatigny told Paulding that if an investigation corroborated recent claims that prison officials had mistreated Ross and other death-row inmates -- and that the psychological effects of Ross' prison conditions might have driven him to prefer death -- "I'll have your law license.''
The conference call -- which included eight lawyers respectively representing the attorney general, the chief state's attorney, the public defenders office and Ross' father -- came after courts twice rebuffed Chatigny's rulings halting Ross' execution. In both cases, Chatigny agreed with arguments that there are questions about Ross' mental capacity to forgo his appeals.
Although there was nothing formally pending in Chatigny's court in either case, the judge said he was compelled to bring the lawyers together, telling Paulding: "I believe that as an officer of the court who is facilitating the execution of his client, I as the chief judge of the court have to be sure that you are doing everything that one should do ethically in this situation.''
For most of the next 55 minutes, Chatigny, in often brutally frank language, made it clear he thought Paulding should be doing more.
Ross was later ruled to be competent and was executed May 13, 2005.
Appeals court, which included Mukasey, found Chatigny's concern "reasonable" and "not motivated by any bias." As the Hartford Courant reported on January 28, 2006, Chatigny was "cleared of misconduct by a review panel of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals." The panel consisted of three judges, including Michael Mukasey, who went on to become President Bush's attorney general. The Courant stated of the panel's findings (from Nexis):
"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. ... ''
Those circumstances included challenges by family members and lawyers that serial killer Michael Ross was not mentally competent to waive further appeals and "volunteer'' for execution, and the staunch defense of Ross' competence and right to choose his fate by attorney T.R. Paulding.
The special committee -- composed of 2nd Circuit Chief Judge John W. Walker Jr., circuit Judge Pierre Leval and Chief Judge Michael Mukasey of the Southern District of New York -- said in its 45-page report, "It is fairly arguable ... that some of what [Chatigny] said was susceptible to misunderstanding and might better have been left unsaid.
"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.''
Chatigny, in correspondence with the special committee to answer the judges' inquiries, stated that some of his remarks to Paulding were "too vehement,'' and also said that he apologized to Paulding the next day.
"He added that he regretted both his choice of words and any embarrassment he may have caused to the court system,'' the report states of Chatigny.
Several legal experts defended Chatigny's actions at the time
NYT: Legal ethics expert said, "These are extraordinary acts by the judge but the situation is extraordinary." A February 2, 2005, New York Times article reported that Geoffrey C. Hazard Jr., described as "a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School who has written extensively on legal ethics and professional responsibility," said of Chatigny's actions: ''These are extraordinary acts by the judge but the situation is extraordinary."
NYT: UConn Law School associate dean: "[W]ith a man's life on the line this was for keeps. Death is unique in the law. There's nothing you can do after Ross is dead to fix it.'' The same Times article reported: "Paul Chill, a clinical professor and associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Connecticut School of Law, said focusing on Judge Chatigny's conduct in the call detracted from the larger issue. 'He clearly stretched the bounds of propriety, if not judicial ethics, in doing what he did,' Professor Chill said. 'But with a man's life on the line this was for keeps. Death is unique in the law. There's nothing you can do after Ross is dead to fix it.' ''
Connecticut Bar Association co-chairman: Chatigny's "conduct may seem unusual, but this was an unusual case." A February 3, 2005, News-Times article reported that James "Tim" Shearin, then the co-chairman of the Connecticut Bar Association's Federal Practice Section, "said that Chatigny's conduct may seem unusual, but this was an unusual case." The article quoted Shearin as saying, "This case is unlike anything else we've seen on the Connecticut landscape. ... The sense is a judge has inherent authority if he believes the attorney is not conducting himself properly. He was reacting to evidence that came up."