Of all the guys to go to the mat for, Obama judicial nominee Robert Chatigny picked a strange one.
In 1995, Chatigny, whom President Obama has nominated to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, presided over the case of confessed serial killer Michael Ross, a.k.a. the “roadside strangler.”After 18 years on death row, Ross instructed his lawyer to stop appealing his scheduled execution; he’d already admitted to the murder of eight women — seven of whom he’d raped — and was ready to accept his punishment.
But Chatigny, then a federal district judge, would have nothing of it. Threatening to seek the disbarment of Ross’ attorney, Chatigny aggressively browbeat the lawyer into claiming that Ross – who went to Cornell — was somehow too incompetent to accept his sentence.
“Looking at the record in a light most favorable to Mr. Ross, he never should have been convicted. Or if convicted, he never should have been sentenced to death because his sexual sadism, which . . . is clearly a mitigating factor,” Chatigny said then.
The case highlights Chatigny’s record of according sexual criminals special consideration. He has a history, for instance, of doling out light sentences for child pornography.
It’s also one reason why conservative legal activists are eager to see Senate Republicans oppose Chatigny’s nomination by any means available. “This is someone who should be up for impeachment, not a promotion,” said Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America.
So you can imagine the surprise when it became public that President George W. Bush’s attorney general, Michael Mukasey, was making phone calls to Senate Republicans on Chatigny’s behalf.
Mukasey had previously played a role in clearing the ethical cloud that hung over Chatigny in the wake of the roadside strangler case. He was on a panel that said Chatigny’s behavior was “unusual” but “not motivated by any bias.”
Now that Chatigny’s up for a promotion, Mukasey is trying to explain. And even one of the more conservative Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee said his views are having an effect.
“There was an ethics issue that he wanted to share his views with me on, which I appreciate very much,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), said, “I have a lot of respect for the Attorney General . . . I would say it’d make me more inclined to be supportive, but I haven’t made a final decision yet.”
Notably, Mukasey’s former chief of staff at the Justice Department, Brian Benczkowski, is now staff director for Judiciary ranking member Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).
A staffer says committee Republicans are still alarmed by Chatigny’s record. “We have serious concerns,” he said.
And no wonder. Here is Chatigny explaining what he called “mitigating circumstances” in the Ross case. Keep in mind that at least six of Ross’s victims were teenagers:
“Michael Ross may be the least culpable, the least, of the people on death row,” Chatigny said, explaining that Ross “suffered from these intolerable obsessional bouts with sexual sadism, which were not relieved until he began that regimen of chemical castration.” According to Chatigny, Ross met only two women during his treatment who “didn’t treat him like a monster . . . yet in the grip of this disease he would lie awake all night thinking about sexually brutalizing them and killing them.”
Despite Chatigny’s pleas, Ross was eventually found to be competent and executed.
Critics point out that Chatigny once ruled a Connecticut “Megan’s Law,” which created a sex-offender registry, illegal, a view that was later rejected by the Supreme Court, 9 to 0.
And finally they point to his history of issuing lighter sentences than federal sentencing guidelines prescribe, especially for sex crimes. On at least six separate occasions between 1999 and 2009, Chatigny doled out shorter sentences for child pornography than federal guidelines suggested. In one 1999 case, the guidelines said Chatigny should issue a sentence of a minimum of 15 months in prison. He gave four months. One former prosecutor called the record “unusual.”