There's really only one good reason I can fathom for promoting United States District Judge Robert N. Chatigny to the Second Circuit: Removing him from the trial courts will make room for a breath of fresh air in the Connecticut trial courts. Besides, if Chatigny sits on a panel of at least three each and every time he dons the robe, his impact will be diluted.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote today on whether to approve the nomination of Chatigny to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Insiders tell me approval is expected. So there will be champagne corks popping, or do they triumphantly toss a gavel and twirl a hem-raising spin in their robe when judges celebrate?, in Chatigny-land today.
Chatigny's record in sex offender cases has earned him the scorn of the right. The Washington Times this week poked at Chatigny in an editorial entitled "Sexual Sadism, Unleaded." The paper notes he has been reversed by the United States Supreme Court regarding sex offender registration. He once commented that a serial killer on death row in Connecticut was the least culpable of the men condemned: Michael Ross's penchant to rape and kill was clinical evidence of sexual sadism, the judge opined. The judge also departs downward routinely from sentencing guidelines, including in cases involving child pornography.
These are parts of the good Robert Chatigny, in my view. The nation's sex offender laws are a sick joke. Chatigny has seen through the facade. He's tried to do justice there, even if the higher courts and lawmakers care not a whit for justice. With the exception of his behavior in the Michael Ross case, I like his record in sex offender cases. Think Jack Weinstein, but without the personality.
What troubles me about the judge is demeanor. Under his tenure as chief judge, a new era of judicial management was ushered into the Connecticut federal courts. Lawyers now must waste time they don't have on status reports and meaningless paper-pushing. Trials are vanishing in Connecticut as elsewhere. One of the prime factors killing trials in Connecticut is the amount of judicial groping of cases and controversies. Few can afford the whims of a lifelong appointee with no need ever to think about the financial consequences of their decisions.
Judge Chatigny assumed the bench in the mid-1990s never having tried a case to a verdict as a lawyer -- not one single verdict. His tenure as judge has been a long process of self-education. While he dithered, our files got fondled. The docket creeped. I will not be sorry to see him leave the trial bench.
Neither will the lawyers who have written to the Senate Judiciary Committee complaining of his demeanor. This is a judge who once threatened a lawyer with disbarment when the lawyer followed a course on a client's behalf with which the judge disagreed. In Chaitgny-land, umpires rule.
Chatigny on the Second Circuit? It looks like a go. I so go quickly.