Judge Robert N. Chatigny — President Obama’s new nominee for the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — ruled against a state sex offender registry while in a District Court, and as judge also scolded and threatened a lawyer, whose client consented to execution while on death row, with negligence for his client.
In 2001, Judge Chatigny declared public access to the Connecticut state sex offender registry to be unconstitutional, violating the due-process rights of offenders to prove in a hearing that they were not dangerous before they were listed publicly as sex offenders. His controversial decision was eventually overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 9-0 vote.
According to a previous HUMAN EVENTS report by Fred Lucas, Judge Chatigny also sentenced a man who traded child pornography online to six months in prison, when guidelines called for a sentence of 15 to 21 months.
Associates reportedly hold high respect for Chatigny. The Hartford Courant reported the following:
“Associates and lawyers who have litigated before Chatigny support the nomination.”
The Courant also reported that “Associates consider Chatigny a cautious and thoughtful judge who has worked for most of his judicial career outside of public view. An exception occurred in 2005, when he was drawn into the 11th-hour litigation concerning the execution of serial killer Michael Ross.”
The exchange between Chatigny and Ross’ lawyer proved to be the most serious controversy of his career.
Michael Ross was a convicted serial killer, having killed and raped eight women in the 1980s. Ross was sentenced to death by the state of Connecticut in 1984.
In 2004, after years of fruitless appeals, he decided to accept the death penalty. When the state public defenders office argued that he was not competent enough to make that decision, he fired his public defenders and hired Attorney T.R. Paulding to defend his case for competency.
The unusual case of Ross’ acceptance of the death penalty made its way to the U.S. District Court of Connecticut, with Chatigny presiding. The judge decided that Ross had “death row syndrome,” and rendered him incapable of making a life or death decision on his own. However, the Supreme Court overturned the decision, ruling in favor of executing Ross.
Ross’ death had been scheduled for 2 a.m., Jan. 29, 2005. The afternoon prior, just before the Supreme Court decision had occurred, Chatigny held a conference call with Paulding and reamed him out for letting his client make the decision to die under duress.
Chatigny told Paulding “I think you are way out on a limb,” and that Ross “never should have been convicted. Or if convicted, he never should have been sentenced to death.”
“My investigation in a typical run-of-the-mill injury case would be more comprehensive than your investigation of this,” the judge lectured Paulding. “You better be prepared to live with yourself for the rest of your life.”
Chatigny even threatened to take the attorney’s license away, saying that if evidence to the contrary was true, that Ross was indeed incompetent to make the decision, “I’ll have your law license.”
The judge apologized the next day, and said some of what his remarks were “too vehement.”
According to a report by Bill Ibelle in Lawyers Weekly USA, Chatigny’s actions were based on two pieces of information: first, a letter from Ross’ inmate claiming that Ross told him he did not want to die and that he had been “brainwashed” into dropping his appeals by the mental health staff; and second, a sworn statement from a former deputy corrections commissioner claiming that the conditions on death row contributed substantially to his acceptance of execution.
Paulding eventually consulted several colleagues for advice before Ross decided to postpone his execution. He defended his lawyer later on, saying that he had been harassed by Chatigny into postponing the execution. Ross said that he would partake in any competency hearing “to protect [Pauling’s] license. That’s the only reason I’m doing it.”
Ross was later found to be competent after testimony from four psychiatrists, and was executed on May 13, 2005. According to the New York Times, he had “repeatedly expressed his willingness to die,” but that opponents of his execution claimed that “Mr. Ross is simply masking a desire to commit suicide.”
A review panel of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, meanwhile, investigated Chatigny’s actions of the day prior to Ross’ first execution date. They eventually found that his actions were “unusual,” but that “in the judge’s reasonable view, the circumstances thrust upon him called for unusual action.”
According to the Hartford Courant, the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals “reviews cases from New York, Connecticut, and Vermont and regularly delivers opinions on some of the country’s most significant legal questions.”
The report continues, “Its judges appear on most short lists when a seat opens on the U.S. Supreme Court. Sonia Sotomayor, the Supreme Court’s newest member, came from the 2nd Circuit."