Questions About The Chatigny Nomination


Senator Christopher Dodd is a lame duck. He reads the polls. Last November a Quinnipiac College poll put his approval rating at a dismal 40 percent; 54 percent of those polled disapproved of him. Democrat pundits breathed a sigh of relief when the Senator announced he was folding his tent. The Democrats now stand a fighting change of retaining the seat in November.

So why is this lamest of ducks nominating people to serve as federal judge?

The senator inked a letter to the president nominating District Court Judge Robert N. Chatigny to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Is Chatigny the best man for the job? Or is Dodd merely repaying a favor?

Dodd and Chatigny are close. When the Senator remarried recently to Jackie Clegg Dodd, Judge Chatigny performed the ceremony. Nothing wrong with that. When I married my current spouse, Judge Dominic Squatrito performed the ceremony. I asked the judge to perform the ceremony because I respect him. I suspect he agreed because the respect is mutual.

So Christopher Dodd respects and perhaps admires Judge Chatigny. Why?

Before Judge Chatigny ascended to a lifetime appointment in 1994, he was a regular financial contributor to Christopher Dodd. So was Judge Chatigny's wife. So was his father in-law, Peter Savin, of Savin Properties. It appears that other members of the Savin family also contributed to the Friends of Christopher Dodd. In politics, apparently, the family that plays together stays together.

Is Dodd returning a favor?

There must be more to it than that. Some say the Savin family had political juice; they were insiders, fixers.

Wags in the federal court have for more than a decade wondered about the timing of the Senate's confirmation of Chatigny. He was appointed the same year as Alvin Thomas and Dominic Squatrito. But pains were taken, strings were pulled, to make sure that Chatigny was approved first. Why? So that he could have seniority and be senior judge. There is a depressing Cub Scout quality to this tale, if true. The timing was fixed for a pittance of a prize.

But Chatigny did serve as chief judge of the District for a good many years. During this period, there was murmuring about the District's "plan". All cases were to be trial ready within 18 months. The plan failed. All we got was a requirement for planning reports, teleconferences and "judicial management," an oxymoron. More make work and still long delays. Trials are vanishing, motion practice has increased. Delay is still the norm.

That is the Chatigny legacy. He's the sort of guy, apparently, when given tickets to the World Series wonders who the umpires will be.

As near as I can tell, Judge Chatigny had not tried a case before a jury before ascending the bench. He toured at the famous paper mill in D.C., Williams and Connelly, for a couple of years after the obligatory impressive clerkships. And then he formed a white shoe firm in Connecticut and chased high-end paper for the well-heeled. But I cannot think of anything the man has done in a courtroom to earn distinction. He's a fixer. I found him wooden and bizarre in the cases I tried before him. He found me objectionable, too. He has for years refused to sit on my cases, a gift for which I remain grateful. The judge has the unique ability to make "hello" sound asthmatic.

The closest the judge came to the nitty gritty of criminal practice was a petition he filed in the state's Supreme Court on behalf of the state's criminal defense lawyers association in support of serial killer Michael Ross. And the judge, famously, forgot about representing Ross years later when Ross's case landed on his desk. Ross asserted a right to die and intermeddlers sought to keep Ross from withdrawing post-conviction attacks on his death sentence. The judge threatened Ross's lawyer in a sua sponte hissy fit. It was his most impressive feat of advocacy on behalf on his perception of Mr. Ross's interests. Again, the umpire knows best.

Wasn't there a conflict? Not it you forget the essential facts. State lawmakers filed a judicial grievance over this which was quietly swept under the carpet. How do you forget representing the state's most notorious serial killer, even if that representation was confined to a brief petition? This problem got fixed for the judge.

The judge is smart, but then most judges are. But he is also imperious, inexperienced as a litigator, given to an imperious managerial style at odds with the adversarial system, and, quiet frankly, ambitious in a creepy sort of way.

The Senate should sit on this nomination. Dodd's farewell gift is none too appealing.

Reprinted courtesy of The Connecticut Law Tribune.

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