Judicial nominations are fraught with concerns over the proper role of a judge. But we should not have to fear that a judge will play the role of defense counsel for sexual sadists.
Judge Robert Chatigny, nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, did just that in an appeal of a defendant who confessed to raping and murdering eight young women. Chatigny also repeatedly gave light sentences for sexual crimes such as possession of child pornography, and who overturned Connecticut’s law requiring registration of sex offenders (a decision later overturned unanimously by the Supreme Court).
It is a contradiction of massive proportions for President Obama to create a White House Counsel on Women and Girls to promote the well-being of women and girls in America, then elevate Robert Chatigny to the U.S. Court of Appeals, a man with a history of excusing sexual crimes against women and girls.
Robert Chatigny’s egregious actions in the case against Michael Ross led to seven state prosecutors filing complaints against Chatigny, saying he violated judicial ethics. They accuse him of exceeding his judicial authority, abandoning neutrality, acting as an advocate to rescue a sadistic murderer from execution, and defying the rulings of higher courts.
Michael Ross was convicted of murdering eight women and girls. While in prison, he described his crimes for a documentary titled, The Serial Killers. He explains, “Serial killers like to strangle their victims, and that is, I guess, the most common form of killing because there is more of a connection, it’s more real, and it’s not as quick.”
He describes how he tied up 14-year-old Leslie Shelley, put her in the trunk of his car, and “took the other girl, April Bernaise [also 14] out and I raped her, and killed her, and I put her in the front seat.”
Then he pulled Leslie out of the trunk and brutally killed her.
Regarding his last victim, Wendy Baribeault, 17 years old, he said: “I raped her, and I killed her. It wasn’t pleasant. It wasn’t a nice rape.”
Incredibly, Judge Chatigny said Ross’ “sexual sadism, which was found by every single person who looked at him, is clearly a mitigating factor.” He described Michael Ross as “the least culpable of the people on death row,” and said, “He never should have been convicted. Or if convicted, he never should have been sentenced to death.”
Hours before Ross’ execution, after Ross said he wanted to die to end the anguish of his victims’ families, after Judge Chatigny’s two stays of execution were overturned, and after the U.S. Supreme Court had upheld the death sentence, Chatigny summoned the attorneys for a teleconference hearing in another effort to interfere with the execution of the jury’s verdict.
A transcript reveals that he pressured Ross’ lawyer to seek another competency hearing (Ross had already been found competent by a state court) and further appeals—even though Ross did not want either. When the attorney insisted on following his client’s wishes, Chatigny threatened him, stating, “You better be prepared to deal with me. … I’ll have your law license.”
As it turned out, Chatigny had been involved in Ross’ case before becoming a judge. The prosecutors who filed the complaint discovered Chatigny had filed an appearance on behalf of the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and a leave to file an amicus brief challenging Ross’ original sentence. He failed to disclose this obvious conflict of interest—even when asked by the state’s attorney. He told the Senate Judiciary Committee that this, the only death penalty case that he had worked on in 25 years, involving a horrific serial murderer of women and girls, had “slipped his mind.”
Previously, in a speech, Judge Chatigny advocated for relying on “empathy” in judicial decision-making. In Ross’ case, Chatigny cited his experience of touring Ross’ prison to understand “what its effect would be on the individual inmate”—another clear violation of judicial neutrality.
But his “empathy” only applied to the defendant. Where is Chatigny’s “empathy” for the victims? Did he reflect on how these young women suffered, and the families who still grieve for them: Dzung Ngoc Tu, 25; Tammy Williams, 17; Paula Perrera, 16; Debra Smith Taylor, 23; Robin Stavinsky, 19; April Brunais, 14; Leslie Shelley, 14; and Wendy Baribeault, 17.
Chatigny’s numerous violations of judicial ethics were exposed by Republican senators at his nomination hearing. Only one Democrat senator chose to attend.
The White House and Department of Justice should have been well aware of Judge Chatigny’s history. Is this a case of not adequately vetting this judicial nominee, or does the Obama Administration—and any senator that votes for his nomination—agree with Judge Chatigny’s injudicious actions when dealing with sexual sadists?
Do they believe judges should “empathize” with child pornographers, child molesters, rapists, and murderers, but not their female victims?
Robert Chatigny is a clear example of why judges should not base their judicial decision-making on empathy, but on the Constitution and law. It is the best way to ensure justice for all.
Robert Chatigny’s actions ought to earn him an impeachment, not a promotion. Concerned Women for America has asked President Obama to withdraw Chatigny’s nomination and U.S. senators to oppose him—and strike him off the list for any position that puts women’s safety or well-being under his purview.