Monthly Archives: July 2016

Remanded … NOT to Judge Randa

From 2012 until 2014, Billy Robinson, Jr., was part of a criminal conspiracy that bought heroin in Chicago, transported it north into Wisconsin, and sold it in Milwaukee.  The conspirators ultimately were arrested and, in time, Robinson pleaded guilty in federal court to two charges of traveling in interstate commerce to facilitate heroin distribution.

Robinson’s case was assigned to the Honorable Rudolph T. Randa, then a judge in active service on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. (For his biography, click here.)  Judge Randa accepted Robinson’s guilty plea and sentenced him to 84 months’ imprisonment.

The legal problem in the case arose with Judge Randa’s comments at Robinson’s sentencing hearing.  Before imposing the sentence, Judge Randa offered various remarks on urban decay; how Robinson’s Milwaukee neighborhood had changed from one of safety in the early 1960s, when Randa knew it as a college student, to an unsafe neighborhood today; how Milwaukee riots in 1967 resembled recent Baltimore protests against police brutality; how 1967 anti-Vietnam War protests in Milwaukee had impeded Randa’s deployment to military service; how the “real problem” is that Robinson has five children by four different mothers; and so on.

Robinson appealed the legality of his sentence.  He argued that Judge Randa’s comments make it impossible to determine whether he sentenced Robinson based on the relevant criteria specified in federal law.

Last week, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit agreed with Robinson.  Chief Judge Diane P. Wood, on behalf of a three-judge panel, wrote that Judge Randa’s “comments during the sentencing strayed so far from the record that [the court of appeals] cannot trace the (legitimate) reasons for Robinson’s sentence….”  (For the whole opinion, forceful in its brevity and understated tone, click here.  The opinion does not, alas, reproduce the full transcript of Judge Randa’s comments before he sentenced Robinson.)

To correct Judge Randa’s error, the Court of Appeals vacated Robinson’s sentence and sent the case back for resentencing.

And, wrote Chief Judge Wood in her opinion’s final sentence, “Circuit Rule 36 shall apply on remand.”

That cryptic statement was an act of judicial kindness to Judge Randa.  Rule 36 (click here) empowers the Court of Appeals, when remanding a matter to a trial court, to reassign it to a new judge.  Chief Judge Wood’s final sentence, which could well have used Judge Randa’s name or at least explained exactly what was being ordered, means that Robinson’s case must be reassigned from Judge Randa to another judge, and not returned to Judge Randa, for resentencing.

As the Court of Appeals surely knows, Judge Randa recently took senior status (semi-retirement).  As part of that move, it seems, at least according to press from last winter (e.g., click here), that he is electing not to hear new criminal matters.

But Robinson’s case is, for Judge Randa, old business.  If the Court of Appeals had not ordered that Rule 36 would apply, the case would have come back to him.  Now, no matter his preference, it cannot.

Jackson List: Tracey Meares’s July 11th Jackson Lecture at Chautauqua Institution

This post, with links to lecture video, now is on the Jackson List archive site in PDF file form.

 

RIP, David Margolis

Margolis

“Career federal prosecutor,” a phrase that appears in many discussions of crime, justice and law enforcement issues, is a hefty credential.  It refers to someone who was hired by the United States Department of Justice as a young or young-ish lawyer, who then, over many years, worked and was promoted up the line, assigned to and in time handling numerous, increasingly complicated, often controversial, investigations, trials, appeals, and other federal criminal law matters.

Career federal prosecutors are distinguished—descriptively, if in fact not much in their skills, honesty and dedication—from DOJ political appointees, who are appointed and selected by presidential election winners and their nominees, and who often have political party identities and stay in office only as long as their party’s president holds office.  (And “career” prosecutors are also distinguished from non-political appointees who serve as prosecutors for a while but then move on to other employment.)

David Margolis, who just died at age 76, was the quintessential career federal prosecutor.  He worked in the Department of Justice for more than 50 years.  He saw it all and did it all.  He worked closely with and was revered by hundreds, maybe thousands, of DOJ colleagues (I was once one) and others across law enforcement and other government agencies.  He worked well with political appointees from both parties.  They valued his law-smarts, his life-knowledge, and his justice-wisdom; his guidance and criticisms; his guff and his praise; his toughness and courage.  He helped all of them to stand up and perform their responsibilities, as he took the load, and sometimes the heat, of performing his own.

Margolis stories and lessons are and will be, and should be, many.  A personal one is his “death” (heart stoppage) twenty years ago in his DOJ office, and then the miracle of his fall to the floor restarting his heart—Jim McGee & Brian Duffy described that, and a lot of David’s work, in their 1996 book Main Justice.

More of David is captured in this 2011 profile in the Brown University (his alma mater) alumni magazine, and in this Washington Post profile one year ago.

And here are the statements issued today, at this sad moment, by Attorney General Lynch and Deputy Attorney General Yates.

David Margolis, a great guy in addition to being a skilled lawyer, handled big public responsibilities. He worked forward, from matter to matter, giving each his best, usually doing excellent work, maybe sometimes screwing up, staying honest and apolitical, and showing up the next day to give Justice everything he had.

I hope that public service, and especially federal prosecution, continues to see his likes.

Jackson List: Supreme Court Appointments (1941)

At about this time of day on July 3, 1941, seventy-five years ago, Harlan Fiske Stone became the Chief Justice of the United States.

Three weeks earlier, on June 12th, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had nominated Stone, a former Attorney General of the U.S. and an Associate Justice since his 1925 appointment to the Court (by President Calvin Coolidge and the U.S. Senate), to succeed retiring Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes.

The Senate confirmed Stone’s nomination on Friday, June 27, 1941.

President Roosevelt thereafter signed Chief Justice Stone’s judicial commission.

On July 3rd, Justice Stone was vacationing with his wife in Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes, Park, Colorado. At about 1500 local time, in a log cabin in the Park, its Commissioner, Wayne Hackett, administered first the constitutional oath of allegiance and then the judicial oath to new Chief Justice Stone.

 

The appointment of Chief Justice Stone was one piece of President Roosevelt’s three Supreme Court appointments during summer 1941. On June 12th, in addition to nominating Stone to succeed Hughes, the President nominated Senator James F. Byrnes (D.-SC) to succeed Justice James C. McReynolds, who had retired four months earlier, and Attorney General Robert H. Jackson to succeed Stone as associate justice.

The Senate had confirmed Senator Byrnes that same day, and he had been commissioned/become Justice Byrnes on June 25th.

On July 3rd, Attorney General Jackson’s appointment was still pending—he would not be confirmed by the Senate and commissioned as a Justice until July 11th.

On this eve of two hundred and forty years since the United States declared their and its independence, I hope that this history is occasion to remember and admire excellence in individuals who have served, and in the performance of institutions, in U.S. national government.

And from the Jackson List archive site, here is an earlier Fourth of July-related post:  An Impending Supreme Court Justice’s Independence Day Speech (1941) (click here).

Happy Fourth!

—————–

This post was emailed to the Jackson List, a private but entirely non-selective email list that reaches many thousands of subscribers around the world. I write to it periodically about Justice Robert H. Jackson, the Supreme Court, Nuremberg and related topics. The Jackson List archive site is http://thejacksonlist.com/.  To subscribe, email me at barrettj@stjohns.edu. Thank you for your interest, and for spreading the word.