Posts Tagged ‘judiciary’

Federal Sentencing: A Long Way to Go

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

guidelines

Tonight, we attended a panel discussion on federal sentencing that was actually worth commenting on. Usually, these things are either so basic or insubstantial as to be a waste of time. But this one had a few choice moments we’d thought we’d share with our readers.

The panelists included John Conyers (Chairman of the House judiciary committee), William Sessions (Chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission and Chief Judge of the District of Vermont), Jonathan Wroblewski (policy director for the DOJ, among other things), Alan Vinegrad (former US Atty for the EDNY and now a white-collar partner at Covington), Tony Ricco (mainstay of the federal defense bar), and Rachel Barkow (NYU professor, didn’t speak much). It was moderated by Judge John Gleeson of the EDNY, and we recognized in the standing-room-only audience a number of distinguished jurists and counsel.

Everyone seems to agree that the Guidelines are in need of a major overhaul. As Judge Gleeson put it, “when even the prosecutors are saying that sentences are too severe… the sentences are too severe.”

But not everyone agrees on what changes ought to be made, how drastic the changes ought to be, or even what’s causing the problems in federal sentencing.

Here’s the take-away: Everyone knows what the right thing to do is. Judges want to do the right thing, regardless of what the Guidelines say. The DOJ forces its prosecutors to do what the Guidelines say, regardless of what they think is just. Congress is incapable of doing the right thing, in its efforts to pander and blame rather than solve. And the Sentencing Commission is afraid to be independent of Congress, preferring instead to make baby steps toward eventually maybe doing the right thing.

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“Unnecessary cruelty”

For as long as we’ve been practicing law, everyone has been complaining bitterly about (more…)

Judge Tackles Defendant in Court

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

jumping-judge.png

During a restraining order hearing yesterday, a judge in Fort Lauderdale failed to show restraint himself.

As this courtroom video shows (about 40 seconds in), Judge Ian Richards was informing the defendant that he was going to jail for violating the restraining order, when the defendant John Charles Reasee suddenly attacked the complaining witness. The defendant yanked his ex-girlfriend over to the bench, and landed at least one blow with a closed fist.

Although court officers and a lawyer reacted fast to try to pull Reasee off, the judge joined them in the fray. Judge Richards swiftly clambered over the bench, getting to the defendant at about the same time as the bailiff.

Now, judges certainly are in charge of enforcing courtroom decorum. And he was certainly doing a good deed by rushing without hesitation to the aid of a woman being attacked. But judges aren’t supposed to get personally involved, and his assistance wasn’t really needed. We think it was a significant error of judgment for the judge to jump in, instead of letting the officers do the job they’re trained to do.

Still, the new judge has certainly earned a reputation that we’d expect to last for the rest of his time on the bench.