Taking The Empathy Standard to a New Level

by Carrie Severino | May 27th, 2010

President Obama is at it again.  His latest judicial nominee for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has taken the “empathy standard” to a new level. In one egregious case of a serial murderer and rapist, his failure to disclose his previous work on a case and his threats to a defense attorney led seven prosecutors to file misconduct charges against him.  This is not the kind of person who deserves a promotion to the appellate bench.  The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on Chatigny’s nomination tomorrow, May 27.  Please call the Senators on that committee asking them to vote no on Robert Chatigny.

Here are a few examples of Chatigny’s less-than-judicious conduct:
1.      In the notorious case of Michael Ross, aka the Roadside Strangler, Chatigny did everything in his power to prevent the execution of this serial murderer and rapist. Ross confessed to and was convicted of kidnapping, raping, and murdering 6 Connecticut girls and women ages 15-25.  Despite Ross’ desire not to legally challenge his execution, Chatigny called his lawyer and threatened to revoke his law license if he did not do more to prevent Ross’ execution.  Judge Chatigny didn’t even let the prosecution finish its argument before he offered his ruling on Ross’ competence to be executed.  His two stays of execution in Ross’ case were overturned by the Second Circuit, the very court to which Obama has appointed him.
2.      Chatigny also was accused of misconduct because he had been previously involved in the Ross case as a lawyer, having requested to file a brief in Ross’ original case which he “forgot” to disclose.  Chatigny conceded he should have recused himself for such involvement with the case.
3.      Judge Chatigny described Ross as the “least culpable person on death row” and said that he “never should have been convicted.”  He also felt that his sentence should be reduced because “his sexual sadism, which was found by every single person who looked at him, is clearly a mitigating factor.
4.      In eight the twelve child pornography cases that came before Judge Chatigny, he gave sentences below the sentencing guideline level.  In the remaining four, he gave the minimum guideline sentence.  He never once issued more than the minimum sentence in a child pornography case.  This record puts him well outside the mainstream compared to nationwide averages.
5.      Chatigny struck down part of Connecticut’s Megan’s Law, requiring the registration of sex offenders, and was reversed unanimously by the Supreme Court. 
Judge Chatigny has stated that “‘Empathy’ for individuals involved in a case inevitably comes into play, as it should.”[1] But his record shows that he empathizes with sexual criminals far more than their innocent victims.  Judge Chatigny should not be given a promotion.  We need judges who will judge based not their own empathy, but on an impartial application of the law.
[1] Judge Chatigny, Speech to the American Constitution Society, University of Connecticut School of Law, Veteran’s Day 2003.