Thursday, May 26, 2005

Should State Courts face certification inorder to decide Death Penalty Cases?

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Judge's Ethics Questioned
May 26, 2005 By LYNNE TUOHY, Hartford Courant Staff Writer (ctnow.com)

The federal judge who threatened the law license of serial killer Michael Ross' attorney filed a court document in Ross' case before the state Supreme Court in 1992 while still practicing as a lawyer.

Chief U.S. District Judge Robert N. Chatigny's conduct in the recent Ross proceedings is the subject of complaints filed by state prosecutors and state Republican legislative leaders. His newly discovered involvement in the Ross case 13 years ago raises the question of whether it was a conflict of interest for him to preside over several federal appeals this year that attempted to halt Ross' execution.

One state legislator Wednesday called Chatigny's involvement in the recent Ross proceedings "a clear ethical violation" in light of his earlier role.

Chatigny's Jan. 28 teleconference with various lawyers, including Ross' attorney, T.R. Paulding, so unnerved Paulding that he postponed the execution just hours before Ross was to die.

Chatigny, through his law clerk, Peter Gwynne, declined to comment Wednesday.

House Minority Leader Robert M. Ward, R-North Branford, said that Chatigny's 1992 court documents would definitely be added to the complaint that he and other Republican leaders filed with the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.

"I find it outrageous that a judge would participate in a case as an impartial judge when he participated in a portion of that same case as a litigant," Ward said.

"It seems to me a clear ethical violation for a judge not to disclose his prior involvement in a case."

"I can understand a lawyer not remembering details of a case he was involved in 10 or 12 years ago," said Ward, who has been a lawyer for 26 years.

"But there aren't many Michael Ross cases. His name is on the petition to the state Supreme Court. ... He clearly had an agenda in this case."

In 1992, Chatigny, then a partner in the Hartford-based law firm of Chatigny and Cowdery, filed a three-page application with the state Supreme Court on behalf of the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. The association sought permission to file a friend of the court brief in the Ross appeal. The letter stated that the association "is gravely concerned about the trial court's rulings on significant evidentiary issues in this case," which, the letter noted, was the first capital case before the court for review in recent history. The application to file a brief was granted, but there is no record of such a brief ever having been filed. The court's order granting the application specifically states that the lawyers' association would not be permitted to participate in oral arguments before the court.

The only signature on the application for permission to intervene is Chatigny's.The application takes no position on the death penalty itself, focusing mainly on evidence that was barred by the trial court in 1987. The state Supreme Court ultimately vacated Ross' death sentences and ordered a new penalty-phase hearing. Ross was again sentenced to death in 2000, and he was put to death by lethal injection May 13, becoming the first convict executed in New England in 45 years.

Ross was originally scheduled to be executed Jan. 26 - a date that was postponed several times due to a flurry of federal appeals. On Jan. 28 at 10 p.m., the U.S. Supreme Court removed the last of the legal barriers to the execution scheduled to commence four hours later, at 2:01 a.m. Jan. 29.

But Chatigny on the afternoon of Jan. 28 held a telephone conference call with lawyers involved in one of the Ross appeals. It ostensibly was to deal with a letter from an inmate claiming that Ross had been brainwashed, but rapidly evolved into a diatribe against Paulding by Chatigny.

During the call, Chatigny told Paulding that Paulding was "way out on a limb" and told him, "We're not in this profession to help people get killed." Chatigny warned Paulding, "You better be prepared to deal with me" if anything the inmate said proved true.

In a telephone conference two days earlier in a related appeal, Assistant Attorney General Terrence M. O'Neill questioned Chatigny's objectivity.O'Neill asked Chatigny point-blank, "Does your honor hold any personally held beliefs or has your honor written in any other cases that we just haven't been able to find yet that would cause us to question your partiality with respect to the implementation or execution of a death sentence?"

Chatigny replied that he told federal lawmakers during his confirmation hearing "that I have no moral beliefs or other types of beliefs that would stand in the way of implementing a death penalty in the circumstances where the law called for it to be done."

"So, yeah. You'll not find anything that suggests anything to the contrary," Chatigny assured O'Neill.

"I feel fortunate to be in a situation to be able to address these issues without having to deal with a client, the public, the media, a boss or anything other than my own conscience."

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Judge's Teleconference Has Experts Talking

...Chatigny's Chastising Of Ross' Attorney Draws Both Outrage And Applause In Legal Circles

February 2, 2005 By EDMUND H. MAHONY, Hartford Courant Staff Writer

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My letters to Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal

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A Death Chamber sketch

Serial Killer Michael Ross

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The Steven G. Erickson Office, Contact Information, and Favorite Links

Click on white envelope to email the above to a friend

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